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.

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holidays at home.

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I’m sitting in the airport waiting to head back to Zurich. It was a whirlwind trip home for the holidays – since I got to spend “so long” (really, six weeks) at home this fall and since I just barely started my new job/PhD, I felt like I couldn’t justify demanding a really long Christmas break. So I was in the United States for just one week. Two and a half days traveling with the Ford Sayre ski team as a coach to the first Eastern Cup competitions of the season at the Rikert Touring Center outside of Middlebury, Vermont, and the rest of the time at home in Lyme, New Hampshire.

Leaving is always incredibly hard for me because I have such a tangible sense of home at Highbridge Farm, and in New England in general. I went to Middlebury almost immediately after arriving, and our little team stayed in a giant rambling old farmhouse in Rochester, Vermont, down the hill from the Snow Bowl. It was a part of the state that had never even occurred to me – up on a hill away from the valley, out of sight of the road I usually drive when I go in that direction. But it was in so many ways exactly Vermont and reminded me of why I was so happy to be back in New England for the holidays.

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And the NENSA Eastern Cup always reminds me, too. It’s the same community that I skied in all the way through high school, college, and my semi-professional “career”. It was really fun to see all my old friends, especially since so many of us are coaching now! A highlight was standing out on the side of trail during Sunday’s 15 k mass start with my old teammate Lauren Jacobs, her cheering for the Maine Winter Sports Center skiers, and me for the Ford Sayre athletes. And of course both of us cheered for a lot of other people too.

glueckIt was also nice to watch Adam Glueck, a 15-year-old I coached quite a bit when I was home this fall, get on skis for his first races of the season. Adam was third in the interval-start 5 k on Saturday and then skied a very smart race on Sunday but lost a group sprint in the 5 k mass start and finished fourth. It was also fun to reconnect with skiers I’ve coached at previous opening weekends, like Sara Spencer, Erik Lindahl, and Colin Pogue, and meet some of Ford Sayre’s wonderful new athletes. They all have such great attitudes, focused on having fun and learning and having a good time more than anything else. I think they will be great lifelong athletes.

It was a a beautiful weekend for ski racing, and especially after the grim winter we’ve had in central Europe so far, I was soooooo happy to be able to do some skiing!

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And, then, lunches with friends, dinner with my grandfather on Christmas eve, and Christmas dinner with just my parents at home. I love spending time in our farmhouse and I could stay there, probably forever. Well, probably not. That’s why I don’t live there now. But I’m always so content to stay there.

On Christmas, after opening presents, we went on a nice walk all around our property, up to the top of the hill and then down to the brook on the other side. After the nice weather of the weekend, it had rained hard and most of the snow had melted. The brook was running higher than I have ever seen it before – the place we usually walk across on stones was probably a foot under water, the current was running strong and fast, and I imagined how the beaver dams at the outlet would possibly deal with this. It has been an unusual year weather-wise, but even so, I never regret the opportunity to walk around our land and note what’s going on. I wish I was a better naturalist.

My mom took these few photos:

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When we got inside we read books we had received as gifts, and cooked up a giant ham that our friend Tim had given us (live in New Hampshire or Vermont and need an excavator? Call Northwoods Excavating!). Mom made maple-glazed parsnips from Nigel Slater’s Tender, we ate lots more veggies from Cedar Circle Farm, paused for our annual Christmas game of Parcheesi which my mom narrowly won over a late surge from Bravo the dog (we take turns playing for him to make it a four-person game), and culminated with a Shaker Lemon Pie.

And that’s it, I guess. It’s strange to leave and not have any idea when the next time I’ll be home might be. It might very well be next year at Christmas – and if so, I’ll make sure that after an entire year away, I have more time to spend in my favorite place.

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.

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.

Silver Fox Trot success!

I woke up this morning and thought, shit, I am sick. I went through a whole box of kleenex before our bus left at 11:45. I wasn’t sure whether I should race or not, but at this point in the season, it’s not like I’m saving myself for any more carnivals, so I decided to go for it.

I felt surprisingly good in the race, although afterwards I felt really sick – more sniffly, fevery, sick to my stomach, lungs hurting more than from a normal race. So I doubt this was a good move for getting better quickly.

But, I had a ton of fun racing! I made a new discovery about V1 when I was doing speeds on Friday so I got to try it out. On top of that, I felt like I was skiing technically well overall for the first time in weeks. It was a blast to be out there. I finished 8th, which isn’t super impressive (if I was healthy, I would have been gunning for the podium), but to keep it in perspective it IS my best Eastern Cup result of my career …. so I’m very happy with it!

Today I raced in my old Ford Sayre tights with my Dartmouth top. It felt like home to be whizzing around Oak Hill, seeing so many familiar faces – different ones than those that put on our Dartmouth carnival. It was a lot of fun.