After a whirlwind trip to Solider Hollow, Utah, last week, I nabbed myself a spot on Team Canada for the Under 23 World Championships, at the same venue, at the end of January. The whole trip was a bit of a “by the seat of my pants” affair – flying into Salt Lake City late Friday night, then waking up early to pre-ski a lap of the course before the race Saturday morning. I then raced again Sunday, had a training day Monday, raced Tuesday, then jetted back to Thunder Bay early Wednesday morning. 4 days on site, sandwiched between two travel days. It may sound a little unorthodox, but there was a method to the madness.
According to the Wiki’s, the altitude at Solider Hollow is 1665m at the base, and 1793m at the highest point; which isn’t actually as bad as I thought… Nonetheless, it’s up there, especially for sea level residents like me. Preparing to race at altitude requires either going there and giving yourself time to acclimatize – at least 1 week, but really it’s more like 2 for your body to fully adapt to the environment. Or, there’s a short window upon arrival at high altitude where your body hasn’t acclimatized at all, where you can try and make the most of your sea level form before your blood volume starts to shift. It lasts about 1-2 days, based on some of the nervous readings I did in the days leaving up to the races.
The potential downfalls of showing up at the 11th hour are pretty obvious – you don’t get to test skis or recon the course, you’re coming straight out of a travel day and the associated stresses of it, and you only have 2 days before the altitude hits and you start feeling crappy. So yah, it was a bit of a gamble, but I made myself aware and comfortable with the circumstances I was dealing with. Staying relaxed was definitely key. Being able to show up, get the work done, and get out, has more or less been my game plan for the season. Last year, I spent 89 days on the road between November 23rd and March 28th. And it was too much. I got so sick and tired of being constantly uprooted, the excitement and sense of adventure that travelling used to give me was completely lost. So this year it will be, at most, 49 days on the road between December 14th and March 26th. At most. Probably less. It still seems like too much. Hopefully my grades thank me for this as well…
(TL;DR at the end of these next 4 paragraphs, where I go through each race in a few more words than is probably necessary, there is a jot note summary)
When I arrived at the race site Saturday morning, it was cold. The start was delayed by an hour, meaning my already early arrival to pre-ski was now extra early… like 4hrs before my start. That’s a long time to sit around. But hey, the race still went alright! I was the 4th U23 Canadian: 2s from 3rd, and about 20s from 2nd over a 29minute race. Where day 1 of Trials sort of unravelled was after my race. My plans for the day only extended as far as getting to the site and racing, so miscommunication with my parents meant they were out on course cheering for Ryan while I spent 3.5hours after my race fighting drooping eyelids and groggily cheering Ryan on before we got back to the hotel.
Despite the haphazard first day in town, I felt amazing on Sunday for the sprint (guess this altitude window is real, or the placebo was strong). The weather was absurd – snow, sleet, rain, you name it, we got it, and unfortunately I wound up on the wrong side of things with skis. With the conditions changing so rapidly, skis that were fast and had good bite when I tested had absolutely nothing 20minutes later when I raced. There was a moment of despair as I shuffled my feet in the start line and there was no catch under my feet… But in the 3:39 that followed, I saw a massive improvement in myself as an athlete – I stayed committed. With far from optimal skis and conditions, it was either give in to the circumstances, or just go thrash my way around that course as fast as possible! Having only set foot in the tracks on the flats and descents, I was laughing when I found out I’d herringbone ran myself into the heats. Unreal. The heats went the opposite way with skis – wicked grip to smash the uphills, but tragically slow. While it was disappointing to end my day in the quarterfinal rounds, I was grateful to get inside and out of the rain.
By Tuesday I was feeling tired. I think that’s how the altitude got me this time; stinted recovery rather than ripping my lungs out. I started from 47th in the 20k mass start, right in the middle of the pack, but off the start stuck on the tails ahead of me and quickly found my way up into the top 15. As we came through on our first of 5 laps, I recognized that I’d have to back down if I was going to see the finishing straight. So I took a couple laps to recover, finding a couple other skiers to tuck in with, letting them break the wind and tow me up the climbs. I knew as long as I held my position amongst the U23 Canadians in the race, that I’d clinch the last spot on the team, so instead of hunting for the places ahead of me, I focussed on holding my ground. It was a long, gruelling race where I ended the day in 17th overall. A race of attrition; and again, I can see how much better of a place my head is in with racing this season compared to last.
After receiving my official nomination to the World Championship team, I let out a sigh of relief. Even though I already sort of knew I’d made the team, it’s not until you get it in writing that you can sleep easy. So what’s next? A bit of school, a bit more training, then my one big ski trip of the year. I feel like there’s a lot less pressure going to Worlds this year, compared to last season. I mean, you only need to look at the U23 women’s team to see why I say that. I’m literally the last person added to the team, and of the five, am one of two not on the NST, and am also the only independent athlete. So it’s pretty exciting really – that on paper I’m the least likely to pop a big result, but that I still genuinely think it’s possible, is a testament to the strength and depth we have here. In any case, I’ve already done what I set out to do by making this team, everything from here on is bonus. Time to try and shake up the status quo a bit.
– 4th U23 in 10k, not far from 2nd and 3rd, solid race, poor recovery
– 4th U23 in sprint, missed the skis, stayed committed
– 3rd U23 in 20k, defended position to qualify, great skis, stayed committed, le tired
– Made the team, U23 World Champs team is stacked, getting ready to rumble
Even though this season has been much more of a solo-journey, I’d like to extend my sincerest thanks to everyone who has followed along and supported me in my endeavours. It amazes me how, by taking a step back from the racing scene, more people seem to have stepped up beside me. Yah, I can’t say thank you enough… All the little interactions add up, even if it’s just a nod on the trail or a quick word before or after a race, all the little things add up and really make you appreciate the people who make up the world around you. Cheers.