My time to date at US Nationals could not be more different to last years in so many ways. The weather for a start is a welcome change. Last year we had -18C and a blizzard for two weeks straight, with no reprieve from a near constant whiteout. So far we have had a lot of sunny days mixed with a few cloudy days but temperatures seem to hover around -5C, balmy compared to last year.
I’m travelling with a very small crew of athletes and coaches, just 6 of us in total so a very small and tight group compared to the 24 or so people last year. Perhaps the biggest change this year is laughter and the vibe. I haven’t laughed so much than I have this past week travelling with these guys. The amount of jokes and humour has been great and it’s kept a very relaxed and happy atmosphere with a good focus on skiing, compared to the tense, stressful state I felt in last year.
We flew down to Minneapolis a week ago and drove up to Hayward (the town where the American Birkebeiner finishes). We spent three days there, finding our legs after travel and adjusting to the time zone change. We then drove up to Houghton where the 2016 US nationals are taking place and settled into our new accommodation.
There are two sprints and two distance races at US nationals over a period of a week. The first race was perhaps my biggest focus, a 15km Classic interval start and my second most important event is the 30km Skate mass start. The two sprints are fun but not something I take as seriously or with huge expectations.
The courses here are quite unique and most people I have talked to are not that crazy about them. There are no really long main climbs like you’d find in European racing, or even back in Australia, but a lot of weird rolling and twisting hills making you feel like you’re on a rollercoaster. It’s very difficult to push hard the whole way and get into a skiing good rhythm. The day of the classic I was really get racing and get onto my skis. The techs had done an amazing job and they were super quick, possibly the fastest classic skis I’ve ever been on, so I was really excited to get underway. It was two laps of a 7.5km loop (another weird choice, normally its 3x5km). I was trying to be very aggressive for the race and too often I get too nervous and have my skis too heavily waxed and so I made a call to go on the kick wax I had (less layers). It turned out to be a bad call, I was racing on skis with a big camber in them and I didn’t tell that to techs and so as a result I didn’t have enough layers underfoot to have proper grip. It’s a mistake I definitely take responsibility for, I think the techs did an amazing job on the skis I just didn’t consider that factor (until after the race). I had a solid 15km race, really decent but not really what I was aiming for. I really wanted to be in solid contention and I was out by more than I’d like.
The second day was the first of the sprints, a long skate sprint on another rollercoaster course, I was hoping for some redemption but my legs were so fried from the distance race the day before I struggled. I was very surprised at how badly my body felt and how fatigued it was.
After the sprint we have two days off before the 30km and I have spent the last two days skiing lightly and trying to get my body feeling sharp and fast again. I feel like I’m in much better shape than I’m showing so I’m really eager to prove to myself I’m in much better shape and have a fast race tomorrow!
Tomorrow in the 30km we’ll see what I can do!
Train hard, rest easy, live for the moment.