Strides

You don't have to be IN IN the Alps to find beautiful skiing in Switzerland. I recommend Einsiedeln, just an hour from the Zurich main station.

You don’t have to be IN IN the Alps to find beautiful skiing in Switzerland. I recommend Einsiedeln, just an hour from the Zurich main station.

In the beginning, I really loved classic skiing, much more than skating.

I didn’t learn how to cross-country ski in a competitive sense until high school, and for the longest time skating was so hard: sure, I was fit, and I succeeded at it the way every high school runner-crossover does in the beginning.

But even through college the idea of doing a 2-hour OD skating was exhausting. My balance was bad, so V2 was the opposite of relaxing. My technique was bad, twisting to the sides and wasting a lot of energy. All this wasted movement made it tough for me to skate easily at a true “level one” with a low heart rate (especially going up Oak Hill….).

It wasn’t until after college that I began to get some acceptable skate technique, thanks to video session after video session with Pepa Miloucheva in Craftsbury. I began to get more efficient, and to really enjoy skating. I even ditched my former attitude that I could only ever do well in classic races.

In the past three years, things have gotten way more extreme. I initially moved to Sweden for my masters and never skated once in two years, instead vastly improving my double-poling. But then I moved to Switzerland for my PhD. I have barely classic skied at all because most of the citizen races as skating.

When I was home I also got to go skiing with my buddy from college, Courtney! She was staying a house nearby for a few days. It was super awesome to catch up! She picked me up at our farm before we headed out.

When I was home I also got to go skiing with my buddy from college, Courtney! She was staying a house nearby for a few days. It was super awesome to catch up! She picked me up at our farm before we headed out.

In addition, I have to take the train to ski so I don’t have much way of knowing snow conditions before I arrive at the trails. After all that travel, I just want to hop on my skis and go. I got lazy. I didn’t want to have to test hardwax or klister or, yikes, klister cover, after a long train ride. I didn’t want to bring a box of wax with me. I didn’t particularly want to sticky bring klister skis back on the train, either.

Was I just making excuses? Yes. But I think this is part of being a busy adult with two jobs: things that only take five or ten minutes, like applying kickwax when you get to the trailhead, seem like unnecessary, insurmountable, stressful obstacles. If I owned some of the nifty new waxless skis, maybe I would have classic skied more often. But I don’t. So I took the simple route and just skated. My skis might have been fast some days and slow other days, but they always worked.

I can’t believe that I had come to this. I had been a classic-skiing purist, shunning waxes skis, raving about the beauty of the classic technique.

But during these years of skate skiing in Switzerland, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. For a girl who once said, “skating is so unnatural, I mean, look at evolutionary history, our bodies were not ever under selection to make this sort of movement!”, hopping on my skis and taking off always felt immediately exhilirating, washing away whatever work burdens I had been carrying on my shoulders.

Over the holidays, I returned to New England and volunteered coaching with my old club, Ford Sayre, at the Eastern Cup race weekend. The head coach sent out assignments for the weekend. I saw mine and froze: “Evan, Tim, Chelsea: classic wax testing, application”.

It had been a long time since I had classic skied – I estimated I had only done so maybe five times in the last two years – much less tested wax or tried to predict what would work best in a given set of conditions. I wondered if I remembered how to do either.

On the Friday afternoon of the race weekend we arrived before the van with the athletes. It was incredibly cold, maybe 0°F, maybe colder? We had special green on our skis. I hit the trails.

I instantly remembered: what a joy it is to classic ski, in nice tracks, on wax that kicks! It was so easy! So effortless!

I remembered back to my last year in Sweden. There wasn’t much snow in Upplands. I went to one marathon, a seeding race for the Vasaloppet, where it was raining – so slushy. Clearly klister skiing. I didn’t have any klister in my small traveling wax box, so one of the guys in my club convinced me that it would be fine to just go on skate skis and double pole 42 k (being a tall Swedish man, this didn’t faze him). He turned out to be wrong, wrong for me at least. The first 10 k felt okay and then after that? It was a long way. I hated it. I hated skiing for a few days after that.

Pow day at the best trails in NH. Second one around the loop.

Pow day at the best trails in NH. Second one around the loop.

And then later that winter, I did the 90 k Vasaloppet despite being utterly unprepared. I’ve written before about how that turned out.

Maybe more than moving to Switzerland, these memories of skiing slowly and painfully in the deep slush, hating my life and regretting my decisions had been traumatic enough to turn me off classic skiing.

This was nothing like that. It’s joyful! I automatically remember how to shift my weight. It turns out, it’s not something you forget. It’s like riding a bicycle. Once you’re good at it, it sticks with you. Thank God.

And I remembered why I used to love classic skiing. Striding is my jam. And it still is.

As I cruised around the Craftsbury trails, my old familiar stomping groups, I was happy. For a few loops. I hadn’t brought very beefy gloves with me from Europe though, so after a while I began to sense the precursors to frostbite. By the time the van with the kids showed up, I could barely ski another loop before I was forced back into the touring center, huddling in defense, to catch up with my old friends on the staff and try to breath life back into my fingers.

Over the holiday break, I got in some more classic skiing. I had new skis to test out and, for once, there was plentiful snow in the Upper Valley. I could ski all my favorite spots. (On skate skis, too.)

Taking these long, easy skis was one of the best parts of vacation.

After my first work week back from holiday vacation, I headed on a train to go ski early on a Saturday morning. In my single-pair ski bag were classic skis with blue kickwax. I had a great day.

Moral of the story: always have a few good klisters in your possession. Otherwise you might accidentally turn yourself off of something that you love, and you won’t remember what you’re missing until a former coach orders you to race wax a bunch of high school kids’ skis.

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the Eastern Cup experience.

High school racing trips mean high school kids cooking. Read about the Ford Sayre kids' experience with skiing on the team's blog.

High school racing trips mean high school kids cooking. Read about the Ford Sayre kids’ experience with skiing on the team’s blog.

I started cross-country skiing in an organized way when I was 15, a sophomore in high school. Before that I had grown up skiing on fishscales, clomping around on the trails behind my grandfather’s house, which were groomed by a devoted local skier (Mike Smith, town hero!) and his snowmobile. We knew that skating existed and every once in a while my mother would try it for ten strides or so, but her skis were classic skis from before skating was even invented and so it wasn’t very practical. As for me, I lived in ignorance.

But in high school it became clear that my career as a basketball player wasn’t going anywhere. I joined the ski team because I had run cross-country and many of my friends skied. It seemed logical. Besides joining the high school team I also enrolled with the Ford Sayre club, a local program with a higher racing focus which practiced two times a week.

By the end of the year I entered my first regional races: the Eastern Cups in Hanover (on my home course at Oak Hill) and Holderness, New Hampshire. I finished last and second to last. Luckily things improved in subsequent seasons!

I raced many more Eastern Cups with Ford Sayre, then with Dartmouth, and then with the Craftsbury team after graduation. And after I stopped ski racing seriously, I kept going back to the first Eastern Cups of the season when I was home for Christmas to coach for Ford Sayre, my original club. At the first big races of the season things are always a little hectic so they are happy to have an extra helper on hand. Each year I get to check in with the kids who are coming up through the program, and it’s a blast.

Racing in Craftsbury at the Eastern Cup in 2013. (photo: Adam Glueck)

Racing in Craftsbury at the Eastern Cup in 2013. (photo: Adam Glueck)

(Sometimes I race, but this year with the 1 k manmade loop I didn’t feel the need to. Once you’re old, you can be a fair-weather racer, so to speak.)

This year I was particularly excited to go to the Eastern Cup because it was in Craftsbury, Vermont, on my old stomping grounds. With so little snow in Europe, I was excited to bring my skis home and go for long distance skis around my favorite Craftsbury trails – finally, some good training! My boyfriend was also coming to help coach, and he had never been to the Outdoor Center or that area of the Northeast Kingdom. I was doubly excited to show him the trails.

….. then I actually took a look at the snow situation in New England. Craftsbury did an amazing job pulling off races at all, especially since it rained two days before the races and reduced the snowpack on the manmade loop down about as low as it could go. But a kilometer was as much as they could muster. My boyfriend and I brought our running shoes and explored the trails that way. It was still fun.

What I love about Eastern Cups is that they have something for everyone – from top seniors vying for international race spots who treat the races as training tests, down to high school athletes jumping in their first regional races – and that the entire ski community of Eastern North America shows up. I could catch up with so many old friends in one place, and trade cards and Christmas presents too! I would have loved to go for a ski with my friends who are now coaching full time, but we stuck to chatting on the side of the trail given the conditions.

Ford Sayre coaches Scottie Eliassen (right) and Dennis Donahue under the wax tent in 2014.

Ford Sayre coaches Scottie Eliassen (right) and Dennis Donahue under the wax tent in 2014.

A ski race is a ski race is a ski race, and one of the things that has gotten me through my 2 1/2 years in Europe is that you can show up to ski anywhere and things are basically the same and people are friendly and nice. But the Eastern Cup is particularly familiar, whether it is Pavel Sotskov’s announcing or walking by tables full of food for various clubs and college teams where athletes, coaches, and parents all congregate post-race.

I also particularly enjoy going with Ford Sayre. Every year it’s a reminder of what I learned from the club about how to be an athlete. Before every race, each athlete has to come check in with the coaches to talk about two (no more, no less) specific objectives for the competition – be it a technique cue, something about pacing, a mental aspect, or just the process of the race from warm-up to cool-down.

At the end of the day, the athletes cook dinner and we all sit around a big table as a team. Each athlete says one thing that went well for them, and one thing that they want to improve on in the next race. Then the coaches do the same thing.

The club always has a good system of setting short- and long-term goals, and revisiting them when appropriate. It teaches athletes early in their careers to have purpose and to do things for a reason. That’s something that carries through to everything else you do in life – I regularly set goals for my academic life, some which I want to achieve in the next months and some which I want to achieve two or five years from now.

This year’s group was particularly awesome and respectful, and super fun to work with. It’s great to be hanging out in the house with kids who are so smart and have so much interesting to say! In a lot of years the only athletes in the club are from Hanover High School (so Hanover and Lyme, New Hampshire, and Norwich, Vermont, and sometimes surrounding towns). This year there are four high schools represented and a home-schooled athlete as well. That made things a lot more interesting, and it was amazing how well everyone got along on their first real race trip.

There’s also always the comedian of the group, and always one athlete who was quiet the first three years I showed up to coach but suddenly has become the group’s ringleader. People change so fast in high school, both athletically and on a personal level.

So my annual Eastern Cup trip is a reminder: sports are a good an essential things for kids to do. Encourage your family, friends, and neighbors to get their kids to do sports! As many as possible!

And coaching? That’s a pretty good, fun, and rewarding thing for grown-ups to do, too.

circular.

me! heading out of the gate in qualifying. photo: Adam Glueck.

me! heading out of the gate in qualifying. photo: Adam Glueck.

Of course, one of my first days back in the States for Christmas I headed up to the Northeast Kingdom. Craftsbury. My old home. For years and years I have gone to the opening Eastern Cup races of the season, first at Trapps in Stowe, then up in the County in Maine, then in Craftsbury. I’ve worn many different hats (and suits) but I’ve pretty much always been there. This year was no different. With Ford Sayre facing a coaching shortage because of various people traveling, I was super psyched to lend a hand with my old team.

And hey – why not? Put on a bib. I’d been skiing a fair amount (although let’s be honest, not really that much, I never did a ski longer than 2 hours) in the past two weeks in Austria and Switzerland. I’m signed up for one ski marathon this winter and considering entries in two more, so I need to get in some intensity. The easiest way to do that is with a bib on, not by yourself out on the trails thinking, “well, this is sort of hard so I’ll just stop right here.”

I’ve helped out with Ford Sayre a lot in the past, though not nearly as much as they have helped me. My first year of college – the first year out of the program – I signed on as an assistant coach on the team’s trip to Norway. I’ve been helping out here and there ever since. In the past few years my coaching and leadership chops have gotten better as I’ve put things in a little more perspective. It helps not to be fully consumed by racing yourself!

So, on Thursday, I had gotten about 3 hours of sleep when I left Davos for Zurich, Zurich for Dulles and a sprint through the airport, Dulles for Boston, and eventually Boston for home. 24 hours of traveling.

Saturday morning I woke up at 5:20, which seemed not that bad because I was still on European time, and drove up to Craftsbury. The roads were a little sketchy and icy. Fun times! I arrived a little before the Ford Sayre crew, who had stayed in Barton the night before. But eventually they arrived. This year there were just a few kids racing, almost all freshmen in high school. Scottie and I took them around the sprint course, talking about strategy and how to ski each section, answering a million questions. The kids’ approach ranged from focus and planning, to ADHD focus and planning, to ADHD distraction. I loved them. It might be my favorite group of Ford Sayre kids I’ve worked with. Okay, that’s hard to say, I love them all, but seriously, these guys are great. They are a lot of fun, and they aren’t intimidated by much, and they are eager to learn and go and do. Coaching is a joy (even when it became “Chelsea Little’s ski delivery service”, running to the starting pen with race skis because I was afraid the kids would forget to pick them up otherwise!).

It was also my turn to race, eventually. I headed out of the start box, not feeling like I was skiing very well. It had started to rain. But then I zoomed down a hill, tuck-skating and gathering momentum, and boom! pop pop pop over the top and swooping down again. I shot partway up Dinosaur Hill. My goal had been to use my time on snow so far this year to my advantage, skiing the terrain efficiently and getting the most momentum I could out of every transition. I was definitely doing it. So what if every time I hit an uphill I came grinding to a halt? Living in Munich and going for 30 minute runs every other day doesn’t prep you well for climbing on skis.

Also, my skis were incredibly fast. I got them from Caldwell Sport and geeze, thanks Zach. Best skis I’ve ever had, by a mile. (As my mom said when I arrived home: “isn’t it kind of too bad you never had skis this nice when you were actually racing seriously?”) I felt like I was cheating, because my speed wasn’t coming entirely from my own motor.

Anyway, I finished, headed back to get dry clothes, got distracted talking to a million old friends. I finally ran into Judy Geer when I was almost out on the trails, and she happened to have a copy of qualifying results in her hands. I asked to take a peek.

“Chels, you made the heats!” she said.

“WHAT!?”

“I know! We checked, like, four or five times!”

Well, THAT was unexpected. Sprinting requires a fairly specific kind of training, which I definitely haven’t done in about three years. I mean, these weren’t super elite races, but still. Last year I didn’t even come close to qualifying when I did this race last year. But here I was. I ran back to the tent, realized that it had been 45 minutes and I had neither cooled down nor eaten anything… broke the news to my stunned team, and got on things.

Long story short, I had a great start to my quarterfinal heat but crashed soon afterwards, getting tangled up in someone else’s skis when I tried to move over and get off the outside lane. I haven’t skied around people in a while, definitely not at top speed, so I was probably a little overconfident in my own ski-handling and definitely way overconfident in the rest of the field’s. This isn’t the World Cup, where you can just slot in right behind someone. The thing is, my main connection to skiing the last few years has been not from doing it myself, but instead from watching the World Cup. You get some unreasonable expectations for how things are going to work.

I crashed just before the first downhill, which was unfortunate because the rest of the field got that momentum before I even really got up. With my rocket skis I came within 5 meters of catching up on Dinosaur Hill, but then I got really tired. Finished dead last. Walked it across the line. If this had been the World Cup I would have waved to the crowd, like, “that was fun, thanks for your cheering and I did the best I could if not for that stupid crash.” This isn’t the World Cup though. It’s an Eastern Cup. I’d been beat by some college kids and another old lady like myself.

By then it was really pouring – I was soaked through completely, spandex stuck to me – and I managed to cool down for real. We stuck around because one of the kids was in the J2 heats, so we cheered like maniacs. One of the high points was actually watching one of the kids I used to coach in BKL back when I was at Crafstbury, Anders Hanson, ski like a boss in the J2 heats and finish third in the final. He’s come a long way and it was incredible to see.

I had a great dinner with the team (and made chocolate cake with lots of candles to celebrate the solstice), and we woke up the next morning to a crazy ice storm.

again: Adam's photo.

again: Adam’s photo.

Basically, no power, no heat. We told the kids to go back to bed and almost 2 hours later learned that the Sunday race had been canceled. Bummer. I was psyched for the 10 k classic and had a much better seed than the previous day, when I’d had no points and started fourth-from-last, hardly advantageous. It would have been fun. It was so icy on the interstate that we couldn’t leave immediately, but had to hunker down for a few more hours before we dared test the roads. I also had to cancel plans to visit friends in Craftsbury and then spend the night with other friends in Hardwick. But probably for the best, I needed to work on my thesis so that’s what I did when I got home!

(well, sort of. I was pretty exhausted. Also, Scottie and I went to a lovely Wassail party hosted by Margaret Caldwell.)

Anyway, it was a great weekend and brought back a lot of memories. It’s the first time I have races in the full Ford Sayre suit in many, many years. I now have no other team to train with (well, no team at all) and I am thrilled to be able to rep them. The program is very young so it was important for people to see their suit in the senior heats, and I was definitely the only way that was going to happen. More than being surprised to make the heats, I was pretty proud I could do that for them.

It has been more than 10 years since my first race for Ford Sayre, which I was thinking about too. In January of 2003 or so, I went to my first Eastern Cup, but I wasn’t even good enough to race. I skied around with Dennis and worked on just learning to ski. Making it 5 k felt like a huge accomplishment. To be able to waltz back in with no serious training, a thesis due in 10 days which I had been putting off to do work on my part-time job, no sleep, jet lag, etc… and somehow make the heats, well, in a way that feels like an even bigger change then the days when I was training full-time like an insane person.

It was fun! Gotta run but wanted to post an update from a super fun weekend! You can read the team’s blog about the sprint day here and about the ice storm here.

Times They Are A-Changin’.

Notes: First of all: I’m sorry. I owe you a post about Oslo. It might come, someday. I’m so scared to post a crappy post about an amazing trip that I haven’t posted anything at all. I regret it. Second: Rather than make that mistake twice, here’s a hasty post about leaving Craftsbury. So at least you have something long and self-pitying to read while you wait. Third: And no, just because I’m quitting ski racing doesn’t mean that Make It Someday will disappear. Like everything else in my life, it will simply change.


I am not a crier. I would say that on average, I cry perhaps two or three times a year. I’m sure that in my 23 years of life here, there have been some years when I didn’t cry at all.

But so far in 2011, I have already cried twice. I’ve used up my quota of tears, and I’m at risk of regressing to the days when I was a small child throwing fits in the grocery store.

The first time was on January 25th. It’s not like I wrote down the date; I remember it because it was the Tuesday before the Craftsbury Marathon.

For a long, long time, I had been wondering if I would keep ski racing after this season. I’d discussed it with a few of my teammates and in every conversation, I had said that I thought I would know when the time came to leave. What I meant is that my results would bad enough or good enough to guide my decision. But so far, that time hadn’t come. My results so far had been far from strong, but I’d also had very few races where I felt good. I was sure that if I felt good, I could ski faster.

But I finally realized that I didn’t want this question to dominate my season. I had to choose one way or another and get it over with. So after thinking for two days, I decided: I wasn’t going to keep on.

(So to Anders, who said he was “mad at the people who fired me”: I guess you can be mad at me. I fired myself.)

In my season and a half with the GRP up to that point, I hadn’t had a single result that had jumped out and grabbed anyone’s attention, especially not my own. I was fitter, stronger, and a better technical skier than when I graduated from Dartmouth. I trained better: longer on distance days and faster on intensity days. I was more coordinated and I had developed fast-twitch muscles for the first time in my life. But when I got in races, for whatever reason, the promise shown in training didn’t pan out. It’s something that Pepa and I have never figured out – I just should have been racing much faster than I ever did.

If I hadn’t improved with the GRP in two years, I didn’t think a third year would do the trick. Plus, I felt guilty taking up the incredible resources that this team had to offer when someone else – someone who was developing and improving – potentially had to leave skiing because they couldn’t find support for their racing career.

I toyed with applying to a different program because I was confident that I hadn’t reached my potential as a racer. But in the end, I felt that my time was up. When I became part of the GRP, I felt like I held a winning lottery ticket in my hand. I didn’t want to become addicted to gambling, so to speak; I didn’t want to be one of those racers who hangs around forever, racing to mediocrity and always hoping for the mythical result that would justify their ever-lengthening commitment to skiing.

In some ways it was like a huge weight was lifted. I could race for the rest of the season just for racing’s sake, for the fun of it all, without worrying about how my results or my FIS points would set me up for next year. I could really enjoy skiing in a way that I hadn’t before, not since high school, before the days when I put pressure on myself.

But I cried, too. I love skiing, and I love racing. Even though I had made my decision and I knew it was time to move on, it was hard to give up something that I loved so much. That’s where the tears came from, a realization that simply loving racing wasn’t enough to let me stay.

I decided to make the next eight weeks the best weeks of my life as a skier. I planned out some races I was excited about. I wasn’t going to mess around, now that these were my last chances.

That very weekend – the weekend of the Craftsbury Marathon – I competed in a mini-tour in Orford, Quebec. While I certainly wasn’t winning or setting any records, they were the best races of my career with the GRP. I felt like I was skiing well. I was “in” each race, responding to what was happening around me, attacking, making things happen. I had a ton of fun. I immediately wondered if I had made the right decision. What if every race could be like this? Wouldn’t that make it worth staying?

But I think that part of the reason I skied well was that I wasn’t worrying about anything. I didn’t change my mind – instead the races reinforced my commitment to leaving the sport.

After races in Stowe, Vermont, and then in Gatineau, Canada – both of which were fun but unspectacular, results-wise – my season veered away from its planned course.

I headed to the Midwest, where the SuperTour races I was signed up for in Madison were canceled due to political protests. After an unexpected training weekend, I raced the American Birkebeiner, which was supposed to be something for fun – I’m not a strong marathon skier – but had suddenly become the focal point of the trip.

I also got the opportunity to travel to Oslo, Norway, to help FasterSkier cover World Championships, most-expenses-paid. With few races in New England in early March, it seemed like a no-brainer to go. And it turned out to be the best trip I’ve ever been on.

But I didn’t really train while I was there. I skied, but it was the opposite of training; practically all of my skiing was in that grey zone where you are going hard, but it’s not a quality workout.

Then I came back to the U.S. and got a cold. Too many late nights, too little eating, too much drinking, and that not-training all added up to poor health.

By the time the Spring Tour rolled around – the last races of my career – I was in a bad spot, athletically. In the last month, I had done one race, which was a marathon, one set of max intervals in late February, one aborted threshold workout in which I felt terrible, and a set of thirty-second intervals to wake up.

I was not in shape to go hard. And it showed in the first two races. Yikes.

I had had this idea that I would finish my career with a bang. I think, somehow, I had believed that all the karma from anything good I had ever done as a skier would come back to me, and I would go out in a blaze of glory; maybe I’d even win a race.

Obviously, this is not how things work. Especially when you haven’t been training.

The last race of the tour was the best, in a number of ways. I just went out and skied. I caught a few girls in the pursuit, I raced as hard as I could, and I basked in the sun. Then I continued to bask in the sun during the men’s race, and during the post-race barbecue, and during the second ski that I made myself go on through the fields on Sam’s Run, and as we sat around in the yard drinking beer, our last activity as a team before Matt and I left. By that night, I had a vicious sunburn.

It was the best way I could have ended my career as a “serious” racer – even better than if I had won. On a perfect spring day, I was reminded of the best things about the ski world: camaraderie, community, and fun.

And when I left the assembled chairs, crates, and logs where my teammates were sitting in the sun, still drinking beers to celebrate a season well-done, I was sad to go pack up my few remaining belongings.

I had thought that since I had decided to leave two months ago, I would have had time to sort out these feelings. I didn’t think it would hit me all of a sudden as I left my now-empty room and carried the last box out to my car. But it did hit me, and I started crying for the second time in 2011.

Craftsbury has been my home for two years. Not since high school have I lived in a single house for as long as I lived at Elinor’s. Nor have I lived with the same people for so long, or felt as much part of a single place. For all the ups and downs, the adventures and bonfires, the frustrations and disagreements, the good races and the bad, this had been my place, where I belonged.

Saying goodbye to a place that has affected you so much is impossible, even if you’re excited about what comes next.

I kept crying as I gave my teammates hugs, wished them luck, and promised that I’d see them again. After briefly putting myself together, I cried as I drove by the Common for a last time, and then shed my final tears – perhaps for the year – as I turned off of South Craftsbury Road, onto Route 14, and towards the future.

racing sick.

This is a nice bench, isn’t it?

The bench is where I belonged this weekend. Maybe not this particular bench, considering that it is out in the cold, but a different bench, a metaphorical bench, a bench where you sit and are not subbed into the day’s athletic competition.

I took this picture on Thursday. I had been sick, and still had a head cold. On Wednesday, I had walked around on my skis for twenty minutes, enjoying the small amount of snow we had on the trails and imagining that I would be better soon. But on Thursday, I wasn’t better. In fact, I was worse. For my “workout”, I went for a nice walk to the end of the road. If your workout for the day is a walk, you know you’re in trouble.

By Friday I was feeling a little better, and on Saturday, I was ready to race – I thought. But even then, I was hedging my bets. “Oh, I’ll just race the sprint qualifier, and sit out the heats so that I can make sure to be healthy for Sunday’s race,” I told myself (and my friends). Sprinting isn’t what I’m good at, but Sunday’s mass start classic race seemed to be designed exactly for me.

And as I was cooling down from the qualifier – which went mediocre-ly – I thought to myself, “well, now I’ve skied more than I have in the last four days combined! That can’t be good.” But I was excited, too. I hadn’t skied particularly well in the qualifier but I felt that if I just got in the heats, I would ski better, and perhaps I could do pretty well.

So, I decided to ski the heats.

What was I thinking!?

My quarterfinal itself didn’t go too badly. I got off to a great start – which is shocking, really, because I’m not the quickest skier. I spent most of the race sitting in third. The pace felt slow and even easy until the last 200 meters or so. All of a sudden I got very, very tired. The finish line was right there! But I didn’t have any gas left in the tank (had I had any to start with?). The girl who had been behind me in fourth sprinted by me like I was standing still. I ended up 18th on the day, not my best Eastern Cup result for sure but not a complete disaster given the circumstances.

The race had been special in a way, because as I said, I’m not the quickest skier. I’m pretty bad at sprinting. But I had been really engaged in the race, and I think that tactically I had skied very well. With 400 meters to go, I was right where I needed to be – in contact with the leaders and a ways ahead of the fourth-place skier. If I’d had a bit more in me, I could have fought for a place in the semifinals. It was really good practice, and exciting for me to be excited about sprinting.

But it came at a cost. I went home immediately after my heat was over, took a hot shower, and crawled into bed for a nap. When I woke up, I felt like absolute crap and was coughing and coughing and coughing.

I immediately realized I had made a big mistake.

Falling asleep that night was terrible. My throat hurt, my nose was running, and I was still coughing even though I had been doing my best to combat and alleviate all these symptoms. I was sure I was going to wake up in the morning feeling worse than ever – and that’s not a thought that helps you fall asleep, let me tell you.

But I woke up feeling okay. Sure, I was coughing up nice yellow stuff, but I felt okay. Having not learned anything the day before, I jumped in the van with my race suit on.

“If you feel bad at all, you shouldn’t race,” my coach told me when we got to Jericho.

“But I want to race! Mass starts are so fun! And I want to do a mass start before the one at Nationals. I need the practice. I’m just going to see how it goes….”

“Okay,” she said, shaking her head. “But if you feel bad at all, drop out. Even if you are in the top three, if you feel bad, drop out. We need only high quality workouts right now.”

So, off I went, testing my skis, warming up, chatting with all my ski racing friends who I hadn’t seen in a year. I love racing! Why would I give this up if I didn’t have to?

I was seeded 20th in the mass start, so was stuck in the third row. As soon as the gun went off, I was fighting to move up in the pack. I had made up a few spots in the first couple hundred meters when I came around a downhill corner and of course there was a girl sprawled in the middle of the trail. I chose to take the outside route around her and came perilously close to going over the side of the trail into a ditch. But I didn’t! That really got my adrenaline going and for the next kilometer I was on fire, working my way up into the top eight or ten, where the pace was slow and we were all skiing comfortably, albeit all over each other’s skis.

Then we got to a hill.

Adrenaline can only get you so far. As I said, the pace was slow, but when we got to this hill, I could barely move. It was like my legs were part of someone else’s body, not my own. I was working really hard to go very slowly, and it felt terrible. Really, really terrible. I remembered that I was really tired. So I decided to drop out, just like Pepa had said.

Now, once you decide to drop out, there are some logistics to figure out. This hasn’t happened to me very often – this was only the second race I had quit in my entire life – but you can’t just stop skiing. I mean, you can, but then you’re out in the middle of the course in the middle of a race. No, it’s much better to ski to somewhere close to the stadium and then drop out, so that you’re not stuck out there.

I was contemplating where to drop out when I came around a downhill corner and, since I wasn’t paying attention, of course I crashed. Complete yard sale. So I decided that would be a nice place to drop out, actually.

My race was over. I think I had made it two kilometers.

Even if you know it’s the right thing to do, dropping out doesn’t feel good. I was able to joke about it a bit, telling people that I had won the race because I “finished first”. But after using that line a couple of times, it didn’t seem funny. I was sad, frustrated, upset. Why was I sick? I always get sick and it makes me feel like everything I have done for the last nine months has been pointless. I’m ruining all my hard work and preparation. It’s a pretty depressing situation, really.

So now I’m at home, sitting on my bum and drinking tea. I’m hoping I’ll get better, but if the past is a guide, it’s going to take me a while. Which is bad, bad news indeed.

Kids: don’t race when you’re sick. Or even when you’ve been sick, or think you might be getting sick, or feel funny at all. It’s dumb. Don’t do it. Stay on the bench.

Head of the Charles.

I went to Head of the Charles! It was fun. I took a bus down to Boston on Saturday evening with Lauren, and we stayed with a friend of hers in Cambridge. We went out to dinner and did city things that we can’t do in Craftsbury – totally great. Then, early Sunday morning, I took Western Avenue over to the bridge and started working my way up the course. That early, it was peaceful and the light was beautiful.

After a morning of spectating pretty much on my own – although I did see Tom Graves for a bit – I ran into a bunch of the Small Boat Training Center folks, which was really fun. It was awesome to hang out with my friends from the summer. Yay! Friends! I felt very lucky and very glad that I had made the trip.

I really enjoyed hanging out and watching the racing. Terrence snuck me into the Cambridge Boat Club, which was fun. Watching a huge sporting event made me very excited for the beginning of ski season – seeing everyone’s excitement added to my own excitement to be racing soon.

I took a lot of pictures. Here’s one of the Dartmouth heavyweights:

And the lightweights:

At the end of the day, the light got beautiful again. It was awesome.

Mostly, though, I was just so so happy to be hanging out with my wonderful, entertaining friends. I love you guys!

Gloomy Days

When you open your eyes and see this out the window, it’s hard to get out of bed:

Dark. Gloomy. Rain in the distance. These are things that seriously hamper my motivation to go train.

Yesterday was particularly tough – the morning workout was threshold around the lake, something I often struggle with. “Around the lake” sounds flat, doesn’t it? And Big Hosmer Pond isn’t that big, is it? Well. The loop is actually 7.1 miles long, and starts with a long climb – about 200 feet of height differential in a mile.

Threshold work is supposed to be light and fun. The idea is that you are working hard, but not accumulating too much lactic acid. For me, I try to keep my heart rate at 180 to 185 beats per minute for threshold work. That’s about 90% of my max.

When you do 8 minute intervals at threshold pace, it feels good, like you could keep doing intervals at that pace forever.

When you run for 7 miles straight at threshold pace, it doesn’t feel so easy. Except for the fact that you don’t sprint at the end, the pace is not all that different than racing over the same distance.

Anyway, yesterday morning I woke up and looked out the window. It was gray. It was drizzling. It was a little bit cold. And I didn’t have a training partner for the workout: Ida, Susan, and Hannah are gone on extended trips, and Lauren was in Jericho doing biathlon. I ate a quick breakfast and set out on the workout.

Even on gloomy days, you have to suck it up and try to motivate yourself. Was I as excited for the workout as I would have been if it was perfect running weather and I had a buddy to run with? Absolutely not. But I did manage to get the workout done and accomplish what I was supposed to accomplish. When I got home, I made zucchini bread, with lots of chocolate chips, and ate it warm out of the oven. Gloom calls for hot baked goods with melty chocolate.

This morning, I was faced with another similar situation. Before I went to bed last night, I checked the weather, which called for rain all day. Lauren and I had planned a 3 1/2 hour bike ride, and we had to do the workout no matter what the weather did. When we woke up, it was indeed wet and cold. But we put on our long-sleeve shirts and headed out promptly at 8 a.m. anyway.

On the first downhills, our fingers and toes felt frosty. But after ten minutes of riding, we were headed up the East Craftsbury road, which climbs about 700 feet in 4 miles. It’s no mountain pass, certainly, but it did warm us up.

On numerous occasions we felt sure we were about to ride into the rain. We could see it, right there, on the hill across the road. But after a minute of light sprinkles, the rain would disappear, and we would once again be riding through the wet, cold air – nothing to get too excited about, but at least it wasn’t wet, cold rain.

The ride went perfectly except for one thing: I flatted twice. The first time, I was upset, but changed the tube and used one of Lauren’s CO2 cartridges to fill up with air. As neither of us had used one of these handy tools before, there was a lot of giggling and screeching, especially when the cartridge seemed to freeze onto my valve. New skill: check!

The second time, we were in Irasburg, with less than 45 minutes left to ride. I chickened out and didn’t feel like fixing another flat so close to home. Luckily, my housemate Anna happened to be driving through Irasburg and picked me up! So I got a ride home, where I took a long, hot shower and ate some more zucchini bread.

Fall is in a way the toughest time of year for finding motivation. It should be easy, because racing is so immediate: you need to get out there and get ready. But at the same time, you’ve been doing dryland training for months already, and you’re kind of sick of it. Do you really want to go for another long rollerski now that it’s cold and, invariably, raining?

I know that I have to buckle down and stop being such a gloom-bucket myself. There’s always a hot shower waiting for me at home – so how bad can it be?

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