2019 TOUR DE SKI

The legendary race series named the Tour de Ski turned into one of my goals for this season. Initially 2019 World Championships was my primary objective, but after thinking about and considering the experience that the Tour offers, I decided to race the Tour instead of US Nationals that were held on home turf in Craftsbury. I was racing very well in the Period I SuperTour circuit and felt confident going into the Tour. I thought that with a good race and dwindling race field at the end of the Tour I would be able to sneak in the top 30, score World Cup points, and qualify for World Championships that way instead of accumulating the tempting SuperTour points from US Nationals. I flew on Monday Dec 24th, the day after the Eastern Cup 10km skate, so I could arrive in Europe with a bit of time for Saturday’s Tour de Ski start. The opening ceremonies were held in downtown Toblach, Italy on Friday night that consisted of a fun walk across the stage by team and waving to the crowd, followed by some great fireworks!

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Toblach town square filled with people ready for the Tour de Ski!

Stage 1:

The first stage of the 2019 Tour de Ski was a skate sprint in Toblach on their short 1.5 lap sprint course. I was feeling pretty good, moderate amount of nerves, and did my usual warm up routine and ski testing. The sprint course skied faster on the day before than in the race due to warmer temps and sun softened snow. It may be embarrassing to admit, but I actually felt decent about the race. However after analyzing a few things, I can see what mistakes I made. I finished last in the mens field, 105th, but only 15.23 sec from Klaebo’s winning time, and 0.03 sec from 104th so I was not completely off the back. I usually find that I am around 15 seconds behind Klaebo’s qualifier time so maybe all the other skiers just had great days. I did make a few mistakes during my qualifier that I can see now. Out of the starting gate I had a moment where my weight shifted back and I lost balance going from firmer to softer snow. My next mistake was the first sharp left corner going up the first hill. It was a bit icy on the inside and I didn’t make as much speed as I should have. I also chose to V2 the climb which felt forced and a bit slow. I also definitely went too hard on the first climb, but I did push nicely over the top. I took the corner a bit wide due to a skier behind me going left into the finish, and tried to V2 hard up the next shorter steep hill. I had to hop V1 over the top but started to feel the loading in the legs, the next climb was tough and I definitely slowed down. I pushed to the finish but accidentally took it too wide losing a bit of time. I guess all those mistakes combined really adds up in a world cup field!

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Ski testing in Toblach’s stadium!

Stage 2:

The second stage was the next day on Sunday still at Toblach, and individual start 15km skate race. I felt a bit tired and lower energy, I think the eating late and starting late was still feeling odd for my system. I went out smooth but my energy couldn’t quite keep up a fast pace on the climbs, I was loading just a bit too much for how fast I needed to go, forcing me to slow down on the longer less steep climbs. I caught a ride with some Norwegian skiers and a Russian who were grouped up, and then on my last lap I caught a short ride with Klaebo’s group before I lost contact on some slower climbs. I was not incredibly happy with my race but went as hard as I could.

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Me (bib 55) currently in the painful process of getting dropped by Klaebo’s burst of speed on my last lap about 2.5km from the finish. Screenshot from Skiing Vinnie YouTube recap of stage 2.

Stage 3:

On Sunday night after the race we drove to Val Müstair and thankfully had a rest day on Monday so we could check out the crazy twisty and fun course.

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Switzerland knows how to put on a Tour de Ski stage! Photo: Eli Brown

I took this sprint out much easier than in Toblach. It was a two lap course with an incredibly steep climb followed by a fun small drop, two sharp twisty downhill corners, three large rollers and a final sharp corner before a slight uphill V2 section to the finish or lap. I took it relaxed and smooth trying to maximize glide and doing a speed before the steep climb so I could hop V1 as little as possible. On the second lap I could feel my legs load nicely and tried to push hard over the top. While not an amazing race it went much better than Toblach. Pacing that kind of course at altitude was a better strategy than going from the line.

Stage 4:

After the Val Müstair sprint we drove with Jessie and Sadie several hours to Obersdorf, Germany for the next two distance stages of the Tour de Ski. The next day was a 15km mass start classic race on a short but challenging 2.5km loop with 3 good climbs per lap and a long flat double pole section. I was starting to feel a bit run down but with a 15km mass start I figured I may have a good chance to do well. The conditions on the classic day was the stuff of nightmares for wax techs. 0 degrees celsius and fresh falling snow on top of groomed manmade. The US team did the best they could with what they were working with. I tried my zeros but had no kick. I wanted solid kick for the running hills and ended up with covered klister. Most of the field went on zeros I think. I was able to stay in the draft behind the main pack, which luckily for me never broke apart.

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A blurry screenshot from Eurosport lapping through the race course!

I finished 38 seconds behind the winner in a huge pack. It was really fun and exciting to be so close to the leaders for the whole race. It started dumping snow on the last lap and got pretty dark and definitely made the Julbo shield necessary. I thought I may be able to move up more on the last climb but my whole body was pretty flooded and with such good kick my skis were a touch slower than they needed to be for a final sprint. Still the best FIS points I ever got!

Stage 5:

The very next morning was a 15km pursuit race. The course was about as different as could be from the day before: hard, firm, and fast. I unfortunately started in Wave 2, 3:30 after the leaders on a fast 2.5km lap. We had to do 6 laps, and if anyone got lapped they not only would be pulled from the race, but from the whole Tour as well. I was feeling really tired and lower energy, and my heart rate spiked just trying to climb the hills easy. I knew it was going to be a tough race, especially trying not to get caught by the top skiers. So I had to complete 5 laps before Klaebo and Ustiugov caught me to finish the Tour. The US coaches kindly informed me that they would be giving me back splits, time from how far the leaders are to catching, instead of “standard” splits and this was purely just informative so that I could be sure to not get caught. I assumed it would take the fastest skiers around 6 min to complete the 2.5k lap, making the 15km a 36 min race due to fast conditions. If I started 3.5 min behind the leaders, and I had to complete 5 laps before they caught me on a 6 min course, I could only afford to give 30 sec per lap to the leaders. That sounds like a lot, which is kind of is, but if I didn’t feel good and lost the pack draft it could be tough. I did not think I would be dropped in fact I was hoping to beat most of wave 2, however it did not work out that way. I was feeling fatigued and had a hard time cresting the steep climbs. I lost contact at the end of the 2nd lap, not feeling great and started to think I may get caught. I was off the pack along with one other skier who was a bit behind me. I struggled maintaining strong skiing on the flats without a draft having to work more than anticipated when I wanted to rest. I got backsplits that Klaebo and Ustiugov were 2 minutes behind me with 4 laps to go. With 3 laps to go they were 1:20 behind me. Some quick math told me I was losing 40 seconds per lap to them, making me hit lap 6 with them tied with me if we kept the same speed up. I heard sometimes you get pulled from races before getting lapped due to impeding the leaders… so that could be bad. 2 laps to go they were 40 seconds behind me. It was going to be close! All the US coaches and wax techs were cheering incredibly loudly saying it was going to be close. I was racing a 5 lap race because if I made it to lap 6 I could finish the Tour. On the out and back flat stretch I saw the leaders closing in on me and I had to start going as hard as I could. Each hill I thought would be my last, and when I hit the bottom of the last hill I tried to sprint and hop V1 over the top. I looked at the two officials at the top of the hill expecting them to tell me to stop, but they didn’t, so I went over the top and down the final hill taking a left to the lap lane. As I skied through the lap I looked to my right and saw Klaebo outkick Ustiugov and passed me through their finish lane! I finished my “victory” lap knowing I could finish the Tour. It was one of the most victorious feelings in one of my worst feeling races, quite an odd mixture of emotions.

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Screen shot from Skiing Vinnie YouTube replay of Tour de Ski 2019 stage 5. Me going all out in the foreground to not get lapped by these legends!

Stage 6:

We had a nice long 5 hour drive from Obersdorf, Germany to Val di Fiemme, Italy for the last 2 stages of the Tour de Ski. We had a rest day on Friday before the final stages and did a nice easy 30 min walk on classic skis testing a bit. I felt very run down, tired, and fatigued. I did see my parents who arrived the night before to see the final two stages, which was so great and exciting!

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Best supporters came to see me race the last 2 stages in Italy!

The first race was a 15km mass start race, one of my personal favorites. I started well and felt great for the first climb, but it unfortunately went downhill from there (not in a good way). The fatigue was getting to me, I felt as if I was skiing underwater, all my motions were heavy and slow, and I couldn’t push hard on the climbs or flats. I finished 2nd to last, but still gave it everything I had that day.

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Cruising through the 15km classic stage 6. Photo: Eli Brown

Stage 7:

The final stage: Alpe Cermis. This 9km race pursuit style race had about 5 kilometers of flat downhill skiing before turning and skiing 4 kilometers up an alpine hill. I had no idea what I was in for. I started in the back of wave 2 and drafted to the bottom of the climb. The start of the climb was moderate and we could V2 for a while before turning to V1. It just kept going, and getting steeper. I thought for sure I was close to the end and Matt Whitcomb told me I had about 4 more minutes! It was crazy, just trying to coaches skate I was going as hard as I could. I had my parents cheering and waving a “Go Lusty” flag that my brother made for me for 2013 NCAA Championships. I finished 37th time of day for that stage.

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Best parents ever!!!
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View of the final climb from across the valley. Photo: David Lustgarten
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The grind never stops. One of the steeper sections. Photo: David Lustgarten
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The feeling of victory. Screenshot from Skiing Vinnie YouTube replay of stage 7.

I finished the final climb feeling accomplished, not victorious in the sense of knowing I did the best I could have done, but having started and finished the most challenging ski race series in the world, against the best in the world. I got very sick a few days after the Tour, my body was done with me, and I had to skip the next World Cup weekend in Dresden to rest for the end of Period II World Cups in Otepää, Estonia and Ulricehamn, Sweden.

 

Fall SuperTours!

The ski season started for the Green Racing Project where it usually does in the US: West Yellowstone, Montana. We flew out to Yellowstone after two mini training camp weeks on snow in Foret Montmorency, Quebec. Adjusting to the altitude in West Yellowstone is always pretty tough, being around 6700ft. As always the Green Team tries to compete in the West Yellowstone Ski Festival FIS skate race, 5km for the ladies and 10km for the guys to warm up for the following weekends’ Supertours. It usually lands on day 4 of being at altitude which makes it a nice and painful wake up call for the season. I felt ok for the race but really just focused on going as hard as possible and truly dive into the pain cave. I was very happy to be able to win the race and it gave me a bit of confidence not only about my abilities but my skis for the next weekend.

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Racing 10k in Yellowstone! Photo: Ian Harvey
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Podium ceremony! Photo: Pepa Miloucheva

The following week was spent skiing on the minimal snow that West Yellowstone had and prepping for the Supertour races. The first race was a skate sprint on the flat twisting course where you only have to V2, which I much prefer to hop V1 in a sprint. I was happy to qualify 4th in the sprint. The quarterfinal went smoothly where I placed 1st or 2nd in my heat after drafting 1st for most of the course. The semifinal was much more intense I skied from the back of the pack to 3rd in a fast heat. I managed to get lucky loser along with my old Middlebury teammate Adam Luban who was 4th in my semi. My strategy for the A Final was to go out really hard and get a good position to try and control the pace and respond to moves. I managed to sneak in right behind Newell and stay behind him until the last hill. He put on a nice burst before the final climb and put some distance on me but I managed to maintain 2nd place to the finish!

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Yellowstone Supertour Sprint podium! Photo: Pepa Miloucheva
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Hugging fellow ex Middlebury College ski teammate Adam Luban after the A Final! Screenshot from replay video on US Ski and Snowboard facebook page.

Sunday’s race was a 15km skate individual start. It was incredibly cold in the morning but warmed up to moderately chilly temps by race start. My skis have never felt so good, thanks to Pepa and Ollie and Brian! I went out fast and smooth trying to get as much glide and recovery as possible. On the climbs I tried to stay nice and springy but also not blow up. My plan was to just go as hard as I could but stay relaxed, and focus on pushing the first 2km of each 5k lap because that is the hardest part of the course. I left it all out there and faded in the last few hundred meters, but managed to win by just over 3 seconds!

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WY 15km podium. Photo: Pepa Miloucheva

The next day we traveled to Silverstar in British Columbia. I felt surprisingly good after the travel day and got a bit excited doing strength Tuesday afternoon. I thought I was doing light weight squats and lunges, but I don’t think I lifted properly since before the Yellowstone races and got surprisingly sore. I was doing everything I could to reduce the soreness by race weekend but the sprint was still a bit uncomfortable. I did well and made it through to the A final but lost my energy and got last in the final.

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Battling in the A Final! Photo: Bryan Fish

The second race that weekend was a 15km classic race, one of my favorite races. I still was fighting fatigue and soreness, which was my own fault, but managed to race pretty well. I went out smooth and fast but my legs were loading more than I expected on the climbs and I felt the altitude when I tried to double pole hard to crest the climbs. I kept getting back splits that Kyle was within a few seconds of my time, but I faded a touch on the last lap and got 2nd by about 3 seconds.

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2nd in the 15km classic in Silverstar! Photo: Pepa Miloucheva

Overall this was by far my most successful start to any ski season! I took my training a bit more relaxed this summer and fall, and trained a bit less, so I did not know what to expect. I was happy to be able to race hard and within myself and still have great and fun results.

After a week of rest and seeing my girlfriend in the midwest, I had one more weekend of racing the Craftsbury Eastern Cup before I flew out to compete in the 2019 Tour de Ski! This Eastern Cup was to be one of the largest ever attended with the great snow in Craftsbury. The sprint was fun and even with a dreadful rainfall, Craftsbury still pulled off amazing conditions. I made it through to the A Final and got a bit boxed out on the last climb and skied to 5th with some very fast college kids in the mix. It was fun to race the eastern college skiers and Canadians again! The best part of the weekend was having my parents and my twin brother and best friend from high school come watch the race as they were home for the holidays.

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Eastern Cup A Final! Photo: Eric Lustgarten

My energy was fading throughout the rounds but I decided to do the 10km skate race the next day anyway as a good hard effort. The weather normalized a bit and it was cool and sunny for the 10k. I went out nice and fast and was surprised by how well my legs were handling the climbs, sea level felt amazing after all those weeks at altitude. I honestly don’t think I have ever skied a distance race feeling that good. I managed to secure the win and felt great that day!

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Cruising through the 10km skate Eastern Cup! Photo: Eric Lustgarten
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10km Eastern Cup podium! Photo: Eric Lustgarten

The best part of the weekend was spending time with the whole family which only happens on snow a few times a year at most!

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Photo: Andrew Freeman

Next stop: Tour de Ski!

 

New Zealand Round 2

In late August the CGRP nordic team made our way halfway around the world to get on snow in New Zealand again! This was my second trip to Middle Earth and the skiing conditions and weather was even better than last year. We spent the first few days acclimating to the 16 hour time change and doing some fun dryland training runs in and around Wanaka before going up to the Snow Farm and doing some serious hours on snow.

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First afternoon jog looking over the town of Wanaka.
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Finding snow

 

Trying to take more animal selfies, Caitlin captured the epic moment!

The skiing was incredible this year with amazing snow conditions, beautiful weather, and excellent grooming. We tried to ski twice a day working on speeds, transferring all the hard technique work we did all summer onto snow, and some interval workouts. We also had the chance to jump in the 2018 New Zealand Winter Games races: a 10km skate race, skate sprint, and 15km mass start classic race. The field was small, but pretty deep considering how much of the US Ski Team, Craftsbury GRP, Stratton Mountain team, and some of the Japanese National Team was there.

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Akeo enjoying the first day on snow!!
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Working on that good ol’ fashioned classic skiing. Photo: Akeo
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NZ Winter Games 10km skate podium 3rd place! Photo: Matt Whitcomb
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NZ Winter Games skate sprint final (ended up 4th to these fast guys). Photo: Matt Whitcomb
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Herring bone run in the 15km mass start! Ended up 3rd again! Photo: Pepa Miloucheva
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Finding peace during our long OD crust cruises with Akeo and Cailtin! Photo: Caitlin Patterson
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Looking out over the valley during a long sunny crust cruise!

The New Zealand camp was an incredible experience. I did not do as well in the races as last year, but that was kind of part of my plan for this season. I thought I was a bit too fast too early last year so I have been tweaking my training. I did not feel as fast in NZ but still was working on fitness and technique! I hope it works out later on when it matters 😉

Next training block is surviving the cold rainy fall that Vermont loves to dish out in October and November, then on to West Yellowstone for the US SuperTours.

Just to explain to all of my supporters, I decided to turn down the Period I World Cup starts I was offered by the US Ski Team in order to try and qualify for Period II via US SuperTour points. While this is a gamble and definitely not a guarantee, I feel I have a better chance at Period II qualification by racing in the US and also better chance of 2019 World Championships qualification by staying in the US for Period I.

Summer Training Grind and bike racing

This summer has been the standard whirlwind of too much sweat and a bit of blood and not too many tears. As all Vermonters know, it was way too hot to have a comfortable training season and we all look forward to colder weather in the fall and winter. I decided to break up the standard training routine of running and roller-skiing with a bit more biking in order to reduce chance of injury and also increase my efficiency of power output from my legs. Running is, I think, one of the most efficient ways to increase fitness for the amount of time put in. However I think that skiing, skate skiing specifically, is becoming a bit more power-focused with strong pushes and long glide phases.

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May trail running on the Long Trail with furry friends! Photo: Caitlin Patterson

I joined the local Burlington cycling team 1K2GO in order to take bike racing a bit more seriously this summer. I also invested in a new racing mountain bike with the generous help of Skirack and Specialized! As much as I loved my aluminum 140mm travel full suspension trail bike that I had the last two years, it was not quite the quickest ride on the local XC race circuit. I replaced it this past season with a Specialized Epic full suspension xc racing bike, which is an incredibly fast and capable bike. As part of 1K2GO I wanted to race the local NE pro mountain bike series – Bubbatrophy Mountain Bike Series.

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My first mountain bike race of the season in New Hampshire! Photo: Bear Brook Classic

I generally see myself as a decent all around athlete who is overall pretty fit and strong. I love challenging myself by trying new sports and testing myself against other athletes. I by no means am a bike racer and don’t ride my bike until April usually. It was shocking how fast cyclists can go and maintain such a high power output. I was dropped and in dead last at my first mountain bike race for at least the first 2 miles, and I was pedaling as hard as I could on a carbon race bike! I was so impressed by the fitness and leg strength of these riders that I knew I had to keep training and riding more so I could try and compete by the end of the summer when I finally get my cycling legs stronger.

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Getting a bit faster at the Gnar Weasels race in southern Vermont! Photo: Meg McMahon

Of course as much as I love riding my bike, I still did the standard strength training, running, and roller-skiing that nordic skiers can’t seem to get enough of.

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Running the Hillstead Half Marathon with Raleigh! Photo: Lazenby Photography

I even ran a half marathon trail race through the woods around Craftsbury. I ran the race mostly threshold with the new GRP biathlete Raleigh.

The GRP skiers took part in a mid summer training camp in Lake Placid with some of the US Ski Team and Stratton team to work on our speed together. It was a short but productive camp with a fun sprint simulation workout at the jump complex and a fun OD run/hike in the Adirondacks.

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Sprint simulation with SMS team following the speedy Ben Saxton! Photo: Matt Whitcomb
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Cruising through Catamount singletrack at Julbo Eastern Grind. Photo: David Lustgarten

The Julbo Eastern Grind mountain bike race took place at the end of July at Catamount that brought a bit larger of a crowd than most races. It was a fun event but I think I was a bit dehydrated on that day to feel good enough to be competitive. Still a great event that local cycling legend Jake Hollenbach took the win at in the Pro Race! Jake is always a threat in any bike race and has helped me with my bike racing set up and strategy this whole summer!

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I wrapped up the summer with the VT3 Mountain Bike race organized by the incredible guys at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. This race is a non-traditional 3-day mountain bike stage race in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. The first stage is a short ~5 mile paired start time trial in the woods of Hardwick on Friday afternoon. The following stage is a brutally long (~2.5 hour) xc race on the enduro trails of Victory near Burke. And the last stage is a 20 mile xc race on the fun and newly renovated trails at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center!

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Staying focused on the long Victory xc stage of the VT3! Photo: Christopher Williams

The first stage of the VT3 I think I burped and flatted my rear tire cornering too hard and had to jog my bike in. It was a frustrating start to a stage that I actually felt very fast on. The second day I took more conservatively due to my epic blow up last year, so I immediately lost the leaders and biked mostly alone for the duration of the race finishing 7th for the day. On the last day I started fast with the leaders mostly because I knew the trails. I still struggled to keep up with the top guns on any climb more than 60 seconds but due to the twisty nature of Craftsbury’s trails and how well I knew them I could stay in contact for most of the race. I had a strong second lap and finished 3rd on the day!

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Staying focused on lap 2 of stage 3 of the VT3! Photo: Wes Vear

The next week we got ready to go to New Zealand for some quality on-snow training and racing!

 

Sponsorship Shoutout – Sole Insoles

I have been working with Sole Insoles for two years now and will start with them as my first sponsorship shoutout blog post. Sole Insoles creates an amazing product that has several key differences from their competition. The best thing that I like about Sole Insoles is the custom wear-moldable arch support that their insoles offer. They have a strong and very solid arch support which I need for my pronating feet, but is is not just a piece of molded plastic like other brands use. They use some special rubber material that can be heat molded in the oven, or wear molded with use that forms to your foot. After a few days of using the insoles, they feel so comfortable and stable that you forget you have custom insoles in! They come in a variety of sizes and styles. I usually use Active Medium for my running shoes, Active Thin with Met Pad for my nordic ski boots, Active Thin for rollerski boots, Casual Thin for casual shoes, Mens Sport Flips for beach and summer daily use, and I am starting to use their new line of Sport Medium for my mountain bike shoes.

I will highlight their new Sport Medium insoles today. At a more competitive and attractive price, you still get Sole’s newer softer arch support. While still supporting the arch, it is a bit more flexible which I think will be helpful in mountain bike shoes where I am not necessarily putting all my weight on my feet all the time. You get 1.6mm of Sole’s Softec which provides nice cushioning and vibration damping foam that will be nice when I descent rocky terrain. They also feature Sole’s very effective use of Polygiene anti-odor so that my bike shoes stay a bit more fresh than they usually would. Below is a few pictures of how I set up my mountain bike shoes with them.

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Overall I really enjoy the Sport Medium insoles for my mountain biking shoes. You will immediately notice compared to the cheap foam insoles of standard shoes that with arch support your feet will take up more volume in the shoes, so loosen the laces more and let your foot and insole get comfortable in the shoe!

OPA Cup Races and Twin’s Wedding!

During the end of the ski season I traveled with a strong US contingent to the OPA Cup races in Europe. Our first stop was Cogne, Italy for two races: a 15km individual start classic race and then a 15km pursuit style skate race. While we were acclimating to both the European time change and the moderate elevation, I did not feel very good racing in both of the races, but the skiing and views were breathtaking and absolutely worth it!

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Suffering in paradise during the 15km pursuit! Photo: Eric Packer
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Sunday pursuit race day!

After Cogne we traveled to La Fèclaz, France for a one-week training camp before the OPA Cup finals being held in Spain the weekend after. We had amazing skiing, fun times, and got to practice speaking a bit of French here and there. The training went really well including getting lost on our first day in a mild rainstorm. We finished the camp with a fun classic mass start race competing against a strong crowd of French junior skiers, one of whom I heard won Junior Worlds if my memory serves me right! Eric Packer, Adam, and I skied together (unfortunately Ben Saxton was taken out on a sketchy turn by one of the juniors halfway through the race) and finished relatively at the same time.

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Lovely training in France!
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Playing tourist in Chambery with some of the SVSEF Gold Team!

The final destination was Baqueira Beret, Spain up in the Pyrenees mountains. The nordic trails were etched in the side of very large sweeping mountain tops that hosted a vast array of alpine ski trails and long chairlifts. It was around 6000 ft so pretty high and acclimating took a few days. The races there were in the format of a mini tour so we completed a skate sprint, 15km mass start classic and then a 15km pursuit start skate race. I just barely qualified for heats, had a rough 15km classic, but finally felt good for the 15km skate race, where I had 12th time of day and finished 19th overall I think in the mini tour.

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Everyone thought Spain was rad!
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Starting to feel like spring down in town where we were staying!
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Mixing it up in the skate sprint quarterfinals! Photo: Lauren Jortberg

After the OPA Cup races I flew back to the US to prepare for my twin brother’s wedding! Unfortunately the flights were getting canceled due to weather in the east (no surprises there) so I actually flew directly from Newark to Denver instead of stopping off in Vermont. The wedding itself was easily one of the best moments of my life. The weather held out and was gorgeous the day of the wedding, the food was unbelievably good, the bride and groom were as perfect as could be, the music was phenomenal, the company and dancing was incredible. I don’t have as many pictures as I wanted from the wedding, but that is a good thing because everyone was so in the moment!

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Group of high school best friends a few years later!

I came back to Vermont to prepare for the 50km at Spring Series. Needless to say I was exhausted and thought I would take my chances to win the prime at 1.8km. I took the race out very fast and battled to the line, but got outkicked by Peter Holmes at the line. I took about 5km to recover from the effort, skied what I thought was a very good next 30km, and then blew up very hard and skied the race in very easily. Not how I wanted to finish the season but sometimes that is how it goes.

The next training season is underway and going smoothly. I am starting to mountain bike race more to increase leg power and endurance for this season and I hope it works out well in the races this winter!

Mid season SuperTours and Birkebeiner

Yet again I’ve fallen behind on blog posts, so I’ll try to post mostly pictures this time! After the World Cup Period II I flew right back to Vermont and raced at the joint US SuperTour / Canadian NorAm races in Gatineau, Quebec. It was a 3-day mini tour format with a classic sprint, 15km skate individual start race, and 15km pursuit start classic race! I felt surprisingly good for the classic sprint qualifier, finishing 2nd to Canada’s Julien Locke. I think that is one of my best sprint qualifiers ever and maybe the amount of travel and fatigue just let me try to race simply for racing and not overthink anything. The heats did not go as well, unfortunately. I led for the first half of the race but got stuck in the pack on the last climb and did not move on to the semifinals. The next days was another cold bright day for the 15km skate race. I felt very strong for the first half of the race, but faded hard during the last half. It felt good to be at sea level but I think I underestimated the climbing in the middle part of the course. The third race brought some new snow and soft conditions that required a lot of finesse in the kick. I started with the chase pack of the pursuit and we worked together for the first half of the race. I tried to push the pace during the last half and felt stronger than the day before. I finished 3nd in the time of day 15km classic and 2nd in the overall pursuit!

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Overall Pursuit finish! Photo: David Lustgarten
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Classic 15k time of day podium with a few GRP! Photo: David Lustgarten

Next stop was the midwest for the Ishpeming SuperTour and the American Birkeibeiner 50km skate race! This was my first time racing at Ishpeming and I thought the course was challenging and fun, and the races were pulled off very well! The climbs on the distance courses were steep and pretty long with fun curving downhills. The skate sprint on Thursday was challenging both physically and tactically with one small hill and a lot of open field to use for drafting. Kevin Bolger showed everyone who was boss that day by slaying all the heats in a very impressive day. I felt alright and was able to move on to the semifinals but not to the finals, finishing 7th overall. We had a rest day Friday and then a joint SuperTour and midwest college race on Saturday with a 20km mass start skate race. Due to the nature of the course with about 1km of flat open field skiing at the end of every 5k lap it was a very tactical race. The group stayed together for a long time and we were waiting for moved to be made. After about 12km some skiers started doing some moves to break the pack apart but with the downhills the pack caught up. The last few k of the race was when the final sprint happened and I was able to finish 4th place with a tight finish. The next day was my favorite college race, a 10km classic individual start. I started behind David Norris, the eventual race winner, and put about 10 seconds on him in the first few kilometers. I realized that was a grave mistake because he pulled away from me very fast in the last 5k, but I held on to 2nd place on the day! (Unfortunately I don’t have any photos from Ishpeming)

Next stop was the American Birkebeiner. It was a fun week of training around Hayward, WI and the snow was excellent. I had the best 50km race of my life, and I largely contribute that to better feeding strategy. I used to try and have about 3 Hammer Nutrition gels and some Hammer HEED and endurolytes throughout the race. But in this race I made sure to take extra time to have 1 gel every 10km and drink my Hammer carb/electrolyte/amino acid custom made drink mix as much as possible. The pace was fast but relaxed, with only a few people trying to break away after 25km. There was still a huge pack with 5km to go and the final sprint across the lake had 20 people! My triceps started cramping at around 15km to go which is very normal, but I managed to stay relaxed and save energy. I was skiing in the top 20 for most of the race, sometimes up in around 4th and then back to 20th depending on the accordian action of the pack on the climbs. I should have positioned myself better in the last 12km, because I was settling back in 20th or so. In the final sprint I managed to get myself up to 9th place, but finish 6.9 seconds from the win of the Birkebeiner is kind of a tough pill to swallow.

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Mixing it up with some fast European marathon racers! Photo: Skinnyski.com

After the Birkie I flew to Europe for the OPA Continental Cup races held in Italy and Spain!

World Cup Period II

Directly after US Nationals I flew with Nick and Caitlin to Dresden, Germany for the city sprints there that weekend. It was a fair amount of travel covering 10 time zones. I did the best I could with recovery, trying to sleep, and taking jogs in the city to prepare my body for the races and I think it went pretty well!

Jogging around the city was really fun and interesting because we could see so much old architecture and history just next to our hotel.

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Rebuilt using the old burned stones

The city sprint atmosphere is just such an incredible experience. It is putting the sport of nordic skiing completely outside its element. The energy of the city and fans in Europe is really exciting, and fun to be around. It also feels cool to show nordic skiing to many people who possibly wouldn’t witness it otherwise. Dresden as a city seemed incredibly welcoming and friendly to the athletes and the event, and they pulled it off very well!

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Team sprint crowd!!
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Cresting the one and only hill of the sub-2 minute sprint course. Photo: Toko / Nordic Focus
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Getting ready for team sprint with Andy! Photo: Contanze
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Getting ready for the tag zone carnage. Photo: Contanze

I felt like I did as well as I could in the sprints. I qualified 49th on a very fast, flat skate sprint course in under 2 minutes! The team sprint was fun and exciting. I drafted Klæbo and skied behind Pellegrino during the first two legs of the sprint. I know they were holding back but it still was an incredible and rare experience that felt surreal.

After the fun and fast racing at Dresden we drove to Ramsau, Austria for a short training camp before the classic races in Planica, Slovenia. We had some great skiing and beautiful views in Ramsau as always!

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Fun classic ski with the GRP team (missing Caitlin)! 

After some weight lifting and classic intervals in a snowstorm we drove to Planica, Slovenia for some World Cup classic races. I was rooming with legendary sprinter Logan Hanneman who was there for his first World Cups!

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View from hotel room in Kranjska Gora.

The classic sprint did not go as well for me as I would have liked, but Logan crushed it and qualified 35th in his first World Cup race! The 15km classic went a lot better. The course was extremely hard I thought, with very long gradual climbs and some fast corners on the descents. Luckily we got some new snow before the race and it stayed cloudy on that day so the snow didn’t change too much and we had solid kick (thanks Nick!) and the corners were not super icy. The longest climb I think was about 6.5 minutes of almost all-out effort on race skis! I did pretty well with 46th place.

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Easy distance day, perfect for sightseeing! 
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Stride and glide! Photo: Metod Mocnik/ SLO Maraton

After Planica we were off to Seefeld, Austria for my last World Cup races before flying home. Both races were skate, a sprint and a 15km mass start! We were lucky to have amazing warm and sunny weather to enjoy the Austrian mountain views.

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Another gorgeous hotel room view!
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Easy classic skiing up through the woods and valleys of Seefeld. 

The skate sprint race did not go very well for me. My quads loaded so fast with lactic acid and I felt like I was barely moving, not to my surprise I did not finish very well. However I focused on recovery and preparing for the 15k skate the next day. Mass start races are always fun and exciting, but with 100 men at the World Cup level, they are a whole different experience. I tried to command my space and not get pushed around too much, but also played it a bit conservative because I was not going to risk a broken pole trying to pass one guy in the first 3k. I was yoyoing off of the back of one of the chase packs that Paddy was in, but I couldn’t quite stay in the draft on the downhills and flats. I felt quick on the climbs though and had a lot of fun skiing around world cup skiers.

I am now back at Craftsbury, getting ready for some races in the midwest and the Birkebeiner!

To those of you wanting a full update, I was not selected for the 2018 US Olympic team. I did not get the results, and points, that I needed at US Nationals to be ranked on the list high enough to be chosen as a distance skier for the Olympics. As frustrating as it is to have one mistake ruin a dream as big as the Olympics after a relatively consistent season, that is what our current situation is with qualification criteria. I am not mad at the people who beat me at the important races and who get to represent the US, they did what they needed to do in the current situation to qualify. Thank you so much to all of my supporters who helped me get to this point in ski racing!

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.

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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.

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I made a huge mistake…
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Checking to see if I could get my race skis….
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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.

 

December SuperTours!

We had the first two weekends of official US SuperTour races in early December. The Green Team flew out to West Yellowstone about a week and a half before the first SuperTour in order to acclimate to the altitude and do a warm up FIS race that West Yellowstone held the weekend before their SuperTour. Although the first race, a 10km skate, didn’t go as well as I hoped, it served its purpose as a warm up race effort at altitude to get our bodies acquainted with the different feeling of going hard on that 5km race course for the next weekend. West Yellowstone had a lot less snow than they usually do, but the groomers and volunteers did a very good jog at pulling off some great races in the face of rain and lack of proper snowfall.

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Adam and I hammering the last hill of the 10km FIS race! Photo: Ian Harvey/Toko US

The week leading up to the SuperTour presented a solid block of training. I tweaked my back (popped a rib out of alignment) during some skate speeds but luckily was able to see the local chiropractor right after so he could pop the rib back in and it healed up faster than I expected. I struggled with that same kind of injury throughout the summer so it seems that my body can handle the recovery of my back misalignments much faster (finding that silver lining).

The first race of the West Yellowstone SuperTour was a skate sprint. I actually like the sprint course at Yellowstone, probably because it doesn’t have any V1 hills and I find that I tend to lose precious seconds during transitions from V2-V1-V2 to my peers that are faster sprinters. I felt strong and had fast skis and surprised myself to qualify 4th, just 1 second from the win to Nick Michaud!

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Refueling with Hammer Gel (per usual) in the cramped van before heats! Photo: Kait Miller

The heats went very well that day. I started in 4th or 5th going into the first downhill. I think that was a combination of lack of aggression and relatively slow double pole off the line. I decided to not try and make moves in the S-turns because last year I tried that and it turned down to be a waste of energy for me, so I saved all my energy for the last climb and finish straightaway. I managed to weave my way to the outside of the turn and make up some time on my competitors and qualify 2nd, moving onto the semis! I did the same strategy, but placed 3rd in the semis, but finally got the lucky loser spot to make it to the A-Final. Same strategy, and I found myself trying to catch Nick in the final, but he was too fast and I got 2nd! By far the best skate sprint of my life, and feeling pretty excited for the 15k classic the next day.

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Stoked to be mixing it up with sprinting legends Nick (BSF) and Reese (APU) on the podium! Photo: Pepa

The 15km classic mass start the next day proved tricky for the wax techs. Warmer conditions, fresh fallen snow with variable sun and clouds and glazing tracks. I tested both kick wax and zeros, and actually decided to use zeros. This was the first time I have ever raced on zeros, and I think the 2nd or 3rd time ever using them, so that was a fun experience. The kick was amazing the first 2 laps, and then faded along with most others’ kick on the last lap as tracks got glazed and the sun came out. I led the first few k of the last lap, which in retrospect was not a great idea. I felt a bit more fatigued than I thought I was, and couldn’t hang onto David Norris’ blistering finish kick up Tele hill and Brian Gregg’s final sprint. It was a fun race though and I had a good time mixing it up in the pack with all those fast guys, and racing on zeros for the first time!

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Second podium of the weekend! Congrats to Brian and David with super fast finishing sprints! Photo: Fast BigDog

We traveled up to visit our friends in the north to SilverStar, BC for the joint US SuperTour/ Canadian NorAm races. The races there were a classic sprint and 15km skate individual start. I felt amazing for the pre race intervals on Wednesday and also for the pre race workout on Friday. I think I did way too many speeds on Friday out of excitement and preparation, because I felt pretty drained and fatigued for both races. Lesson learned though, I will make sure to not hammer the pre race too hard for upcoming races at Nationals. Regardless of the results, it was a fun week in a beautiful place, and I got to watch Kait Miller crush everyone in the classic sprint and Caitlin Patterson do the same in the 10km skate! #goGRP Adam also had an amazing race with 5th in the 15km skate.

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Not too bad up here in SilverStar!

It turns out that after the first 4 combined SuperTour races I ended up being the overall male leader, which means I qualified for Period II World Cup starts after US Nationals! I am very excited and proud to represent the US again on the World Cup!

Back in Vermont we had a cold but fun 10km classic time trial with the UVM and Middlebury College ski teams and some hard interval sessions to prepare for nationals. I also had the opportunity to host a Skate Ski Clinic with Skirack at Sleepy Hollow the Monday before Christmas to local high school skiers. The turnout was amazing and it felt great to connect with the younger generation of public school skiing, while reminding myself of where I came from. Check it out here!

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Teaching a few technique drills at the Skirack Skate Ski Clinic! Photo: Zach Walbridge

My brother came back for the holidays and we got a few skis in together which is a rare and fun opportunity these days! He is still pretty quick 😉

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Brother skiing in VT!

We are now in Anchorage, Alaska prepping for 2018 US National Championships! I have never been to Anchorage before; my first time to Alaska was last March for Spring Series in Fairbanks. The skiing is very good, even though they only have a few kilometers open. Getting used to the time change and lack of daylight seems to be manageable so far. Stay tuned for updates on Nationals in a week or two!