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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!

Fall Training Update

As usual, the summer and fall has flown by in a productive whirlwind of travel, training, recovery, eating, and sleeping. Overall I have been incredibly happy with  my training and fitness improvements over the past few months. I got a new PR in the 5km ski erg time trial, a new PR in the Mt. Elmore uphill running time trial, and new max lifts for back-squat, bench press, and deadlift. I feel way more comfortable on skis especially with the 3 week training camp we did on snow in New Zealand at the end of August to the middle of September. I am confident and excited for the season to come. We had a great training group with Alex, Mike, Adam, Adam Luban from Middlebury, Lewis Nottonson from Middlebury, and me to push each other during intervals and strength workouts.

Because I am so miserably late with this blog, I will post mostly fun pictures of fall training with some descriptions.

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Adam and I enjoying a classic Vermont view at the top of Mt. Mansfield near the end of an OD run!
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Cranking out a hot and sweaty 29 mile run! Thanks Altra, Sole, Hammer, CEP, and Julbo:) photo: Pepa
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Enjoying some Burlington bike path rollerskiing during my visits home throughout the summer! Photo: David Lustgarten
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Luban and I cruising through some Vermont countryside, leg day!
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OD run #2 up and over Mt. Mansfield, this time 2 laps up and over with the Midd boys. This time with a much better view:)
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Getting tired at around hour 3 of the double Mt. Mansfield OD
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Refreshing way to finish a hard day of summer training! Photo: Adam Luban

The next series of pictures is from our training camp at the Snow Farm in New Zealand! It was an incredible camp, we had lots of great skiing and some days of mindblowing crust cruising. We were able to race in the New Zealand Winter Games, which included a 10km skate race, classic sprint, and 15km classic mass start race. There were some white-out conditions and sun all thrown in the race days to make for challenging and interesting conditions. Per usual, our wax tech Nick Brown and Pepa crushed the skis and we had some great results to compliment our hard training. Check it out:

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Analyzing technique work in one of the most beautiful places in the world!
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Sunset from the Snow Farm.
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Training ski with Brian Gregg, is this real???
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Remembering the pain of racing at altitude! Photo: Chad Gregg
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Medal ceremony for the 10km skate New Zealand Winter Games! Naruse Kaichi (Japan) on left, Brian Gregg on right. Photo: Pepa
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Hammering some double pole with the winner during the A Final of the mens classic sprint of the New Zealand Winter Games! Photo: Chad Gregg
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Leading out the 15km classic mass start race in a windy white out! Photo: Pepa
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The most photographed tree in the world, that Wanaka Tree. I understand why now!
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GRP XC team – teamwork makes the dream work! Photo: Pepa

After the training camp in New Zealand we came back to Vermont for some very solid training. While rollerskiing on Monday, October 23rd I had the most terrifying crash of my life on rollerskis. I had a collision at 41.1 kph with a turning truck while descending a hill on our local rollerski roads near Craftsbury. I bounced off of the truck and slid into the road, suffering road rash, a bruised hip bone, a shattered pole, and a partially torn rotator cuff tendon along with some deltoid tendonitis, which I am still recovering from. I am lucky to be alive and that I did not hit my head in the accident. Luckily this is the time of the year when we hang up the rollerskis and get on snow, but I hope that if anything good can come from this crash it is to remind us all of how vulnerable we are on rollerskis and to be as safe as possible when rollerskiing.

We are now in West Yellowstone, MT praying for snow for the upcoming US SuperTour this weekend. We had the opening 10km skate race this past Saturday. While I did not do as well as I hoped, it was a great race effort at altitude to help adjust and get the gears going for the SuperTour. Stay tuned!

 

Spring Training! 5km Ski Erg and new GRP

Spring training has been going very well. I seem to have kept much of my base from last year and healed a few muscular imbalances that I have been struggling with thanks to Oliver Hall at Inspire Physical Therapy, and also the help from Summit Chiropractic. I already have completed a 4 hour run, which would have made my psoas tighten up just thinking about at this time last year. Roller skiing also has been coming along smoothly. I feel much more comfortable just on the skis as well as doing intensity and speeds. All of this feels very heartening as I look forward to my largest volume of summer training yet.

We did the usual physical testing pretty early on: 5km on the ski erg hooked up to all of Pepa’s favorite machines to measure VO2 max, oxygen consumption, lactic acid in muscles, heart rate, etc. We also did the Canadian strength test and our uphill running time trial up Mt. Elmore. My 5km ski erg test went the best it has even gone, but my Canadian strength test and uphill run were a bit less than my best last year. Nothing to worry about though seeing as it is still May!

The GRP welcomes a new cross country skier on the team: Adam Martin from NMU! We are excited to have another full time male cross country skier, and Adam shows a lot of promise with top results in the country in the last few years. In addition to Adam, we will have four U23 athletes training with us this summer, 2 biathletes and 2 cross country skiers. I’m excited for a productive and exhausting summer full of hard training with the GRP.

Blogs

I will try to keep an updated blog that covers what training and events that I have been doing throughout my season. Although mostly informative, I will try to make it as entertaining and hopefully a bit educational as well to all of my followers.