La Sgambeda, my first ski race of the year!

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Most people don’t decide that the first time they classic ski for the season should be during a long race. I can now confirm: this leads to pain. Much pain. My weekly yoga class on Tuesday? Extra rough this week.

I was tempted to do La Sgambeda after Holly Brooks raved about it last year. A ski marathon in Livigno, Italy, La Sgambeda last season served as the opener for both the Swix Ski Classics series and the FIS Marathon Cup; there was a skate race and a classic race, as well as the Ski Classics prologue, all zipping up and down a sunny valley just over the border from Switzerland.

How could you not want that?

This year things were a bit different. The FIS Worldloppet Cup doesn’t start until January in France, and the (now Visma, not Swix) Ski Classics moved the race one weekend earlier: a 35 k classic race in the first weekend of December.

I few people were less enthusiastic once the skate marathon option disappeared, but this fall I gathered some friends and finally looked for a place to stay.

I made sure to get on snow twice before the race… but both times were skating, and once was on an ungroomed path after the first “big” snowstorm around Zurich. Things were so messy and lumpy (plus it was after work in the dark) that it took us an hour and 15 minutes to go just 12.5 k, skating until we were completely exhausted. I’m not sure I’ve ever gone that slowly on skis in my life, much less when I’m skiing more or less at threshold. I mean, my Vasaloppet pace was faster than that, and the Vasaloppet was (a) classic and (b) a disaster. Technically, it was skiing, but in terms of anything you might call race prep I’m not sure it qualified.

Nevertheless I was super excited to race. I have never been a fantastic marathon skier and that certainly won’t change now, but I felt fit from the running and hiking I did all summer and fall. Classic skiing up a long valley and then pushing down the gentle downhill kilometers to the finish with a few hundred of my new closest friends sounded like oh so much fun.

There were hints that my dream might be a bit unreasonable. There has been very little snow in central Europe (or at least on the southern side of central Europe) and so I carefully watched the Livigno webcam to see what conditions were like. I stalked the #Livigno hashtag on Instagram. I asked people on twitter what the conditions were. People were skiing on a manmade loop, in shorts and sports bras.

Yet ten days before the race we got an email from race organizers saying that the race had been “secured”. 800 people from all around the world were already signed up, with more registrations coming in. La Sgambeda would happen. Hmmm.

Sure enough, the day after the registration deadline we got another email: the distance was cut to 24 k and would be loops around a 6 k manmade track. (After finishing, our watches told us it was more like 21.5 or 22 k.)

These are hardly my favorite ski conditions, but I tried to focus on the positives: it would be sunny and warm! We would eat Italian food! Most importantly, I vowed to not work at all over the weekend, except to file some short race reports. (It turned out that our internet didn’t work, so I couldn’t even do that. So relaxing!)

And so we departed for Livigno. Our crew: a motley bunch of scientists. Greg is a postdoc in ecology studying, more or less, carbon cycling and storage in forests. Jonas is a chemist working at a pharmaceutical company. Jonas is a much better skier than Greg and I. Between the three of us we had one complete wax box, which we considered a victory before the race even began.

I met Jonas at a train station partway to the border, and we drove into Livigno on Friday night. The town center is a strange combination of a pedestrian-only zone and hotels, so you have to try to navigate through the packed streets even though almost every one has a big sign saying only “authorized” traffic. After driving past street turn after street turn, feeling we weren’t allowed to go down them, we eventually decided that we were authorized and tried not to hit any Italian tourists. It was a challenge.

Our hotel included half board, so we stuffed ourselves with delightful Italian food for dinner. I think it was the first week they were open for the season; the waiters were still enthusiastic and friendly, making jokes and then smiling because they knew we liked their joke.

The next morning we slept sort of late – paradise! – and then walked over to the ski stadium to watch the Ski Classics Prologue. The organizers had kept the loop pretty flat, and everyone was double poling. Watching them cruise around the course made me even more excited to ski.

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After Greg arrived on the bus, we grabbed some lunch – the best 9€ pasta I’ve ever had – and then went back to the trails, this time with our own skis, to test klister.

The klister worked, but most of all I was just overjoyed to be skiing! It was my first classic ski of the year. Sometimes when you get on snow for the first time, it feels awkward – your skis are sliding around, you feel like this is totally different than rollerskiing, your shins immediately hurt from trying to balance.

I did not feel like this. I felt like I had been born to ski and that skiing on snow was the best thing ever, and totally natural.

The hard tracks in the 40°F sunshine might have had something to do with it too. It was glorious. I felt like singing. Luckily for my companions’ ears, I resisted this urge.

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We headed back to the hotel to prep skis and eat another big dinner. On Saturday night half-board apparently consisted of fondue. We skipped the cheese version and got meat fondue, which also is definitely not ideal race prep, but better than cheese, we hoped?

(Also, having come from Switzerland, it seemed a little ridiculous to order cheese fondue while we were out of the country on vacation…)

I had a really fun time racing the next day. So when I present the following shortcomings of the organization, put them in context. I’m thrilled that Livigno pulled off holding a race at all. But… there are a few things they could work on…

Because of the loop format, the organizers didn’t want the elite field to have to lap through the rest of us. I understand that. They started the women at 9:30, the men at 10:15, and the rest of us got to start at 11:30. The upside: we got to sleep late. The downside: the officials closed the course completely before our race.

Jonas and I tried to test out what to cover our klister with, during the women’s race. There were only 34 women in the elite field; they skied in packs, with large gaps in between. Minute-plus gaps. Even in the packs, they did not take up all four lanes of the course. Being responsible skiers, we looked around to make sure that we weren’t in the way, and then hopped in the outside track.

Two officials quickly converged on us and told us in Italian, and in no uncertain terms, to get out of there.

So the course was not open at all for the two hours before a classic race, during which time the air temperature warmed up 15 degrees and went from below freezing to above freezing. Since it was a manmade loop, there was nowhere besides the race course to ski.

I understand that circumstances were extenuating, but I was still pretty irked. We were definitely not going to get in anyone’s way. I guess my upbringing on the Eastern Cup circuit, where people manage to warm up despite races going on, biased me a bit.

I was more irked later, in my own race, when not only were people skating around the course for fun, but a few spectators or elite athletes were skating the wrong way on the course during the race. The point of the Ski Classics series is to make for great television and to have the world’s best athletes compete, but also to give normal people a good race experience so they can connect with the series – maybe focus on the same high organizational standards for the citizens’ race?

Competitions like the Birkebeiner and Vasaloppet show that this is definitely possible. It’s not the World Cup. It’s a different thing.

Once we got to the start, there was another shortsighted problem. Greg went to put his skis at the start line in his wave, and there was no room. The organizers had assigned people to waves, so they certainly knew how many people to expect, yet didn’t make the start pen big enough to fit all the people signed up. Really?

(There were things that the organizers did well, of course. There were feeds and free wax support on course, for example, and everyone was basically really nice. The course marshals cheered as we went by, although they did not yell at all the people who were blatantly skating. Their warm attitudes were impressive since they had probably spent all of their energy shoveling snow for the last several weeks!)

Of course, though, once the gun went off everything was fun. Some people went on skate skis but I was happy to have my klister cover as I strided up the first hill. There was plenty of chaos, with people falling and crashing and taking out others. I was in the first 200 people to go around the course, and already by the time I got to the first steep downhill it was completely snowplowed out.

The steep uphill afterwards, which was just two skiers wide? We had to take turns skiing down to it, and then stopping. The wait times were somewhere between 30 seconds and 2 minutes to get moving, depending on where you were in the field. If you didn’t want to simply walk on your skis, that was too bad because you had no choice.

All of that chaos had the effect of stringing out the field much more quickly than it would have if we could have stayed in bigger packs. So soon, I found myself skiing more or less alone around a long, pancake-flat loop of a field. This was definitely not what I had pictured, but at least I was out of danger in terms of broken poles.

Double poling isn’t really my strong point, though, and having not done it at all this year except on a short test ski the day before, I felt slow. My skis – fast on the downhills and solid on the uphills – were also dragging on the flats. I was working fairly hard, but going nowhere.

The fact that my skis were slow on the flats was nobody’s fault but my own: I quickly realized that I hadn’t accounted for how much weight I’ve gained since I first acquired my klister skis, and that they aren’t quite as stiff for me as they used to be…. less klister next time, oops! The upside of being a recreational skier is that when you mess up your skis, there are no real consequences except for spending a bit longer on the race course than you had planned.

The best thing to do seemed to be to just enjoy being out in the sun with a lot of other skiers. At one point I had a mini battle with a 60+ year old guy in a new German team suit. Every time I passed through the stadium, I laughed to myself about the Italian announcing, which made everything sound much more dramatic and exciting.

I was tired when I finished, and my arms and back were already stiffening up. But it was so beautiful and so warm that we went back out for a cool-down lap anyway. Living in Zürich (or in Jonas’s case Aarau) it wasn’t really clear when the next time we’d be on snow might be. So we reveled in the snow and sun and cheered for the racers who were still out on course.

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After re-packing the car, we grabbed some more delicious Italian food. The restaurant was busy but we explained to the waiter that we had just finished the race and were hungry. He understood.

And then we headed home. Greg and Jonas had never met before the weekend, but the three of us had gotten along perfectly and tried to plan what other races we might do together.

As for La Sgambeda? I probably won’t come back if it’s on a manmade loop again, but I do want to try the real thing with the trails heading up the valley. The Livigno landscape is beautiful and I’d like to go in the summer for hiking, too.

Stangest thing in the race bag: Glucosamine joint supplements. I mean, I know marathons have mostly master skiers, but do you think we’re that feeble!?

Biggest accomplishment: Jonas has never heard of using plastic wrap to wrap your klister skis if you don’t have time to clean them before tossing them in your ski bag to travel. I feel that by spreading this knowledge (and gifting him a box of plastic wrap) I have made the world a better (and less sticky) place.

Shopping haul: In the tax-free zone, I avoided the designer perfumes and fancy watches, and instead brought home some local Italian food products. So, friends, now you know what you’re getting for Christmas.

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more sports commentary.

I spent a lot of the weekend working on a story about the International Olympic Committee bidding process that led to Beijing being awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics. I think it might be the best thing I’ve written! But I think that’s the exhaustion and euphoria speaking. (Update: I also published a different version at the Valley News, which greatly benefitted from some editorial help by Greg Fennell. Thanks Greg, I definitely need editing, and gives me a glimpse of how much better my stuff could be!)

You always feel that way after you deliver a big piece: unsure if it’s correct, terrified of small mistakes, but sure it’s awesome. That feeling fades. But right now I have the journalism hangover. I even wrote multiple drafts of this, which I am ashamed to admit I don’t usually do.

Please go read the piece, “IOC Membership and Regulations Combined to Reliably Hand Beijing 2022 Games,” here.

Here are some fun infographics I made to promote it.

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Engadiner.

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Last weekend I raced in the Engadin Ski Marathon from Maloja to S-Chanf, in the Engadin valley of Switzerland. I wrote up a little blog post about it for the Ford Sayre Junior Nordic Team blog – I raced in their suit, as I did for the first time in, gosh, 2002? 2003? Anyway, go read my blog post here! It was a fun race and I had a fun time writing it up.

Besides the race itself and the glorious just-for-fun training ski I had the day before going up the Roseg valley (that’s the photo at the top), one of the really fun things about the weekend was all the people I got to meet and hang out with.

I drove down to St. Moritz on Friday night with the Zurich International School ski team, who I’ve been helping coach a little bit on the weekends all winter. They are a super great group of kids and I always enjoy hanging out with them. I also really miss coaching, so it’s nice to get my fix. On this occasion, I drove with Greg Velicer, whose daughter is on the team. He is a great evolutionary biologist (Greg’s own work is amazing, but I will just also mention that he studied with Richard Lenski…), so we spent the drive talking about science, academic life, expat life and… skiing. A lot about skiing. It was really nice to talk with someone about some of the work-life balance challenges I face in trying to maintain an athletic lifestyle, and have them really agree that there’s value in making it work. You can read about Greg’s cool science on his lab website, which describes their research on ecology and evolution of myxobacterial social behavior.

After checking out the St. Moritz night sprint with the high school team (just spectating, after we did an easy ski from Silvaplana into town), I connected with Holly Brooks and we headed over to Caitlin and Brian Gregg’s apartment for dinner. They had cooked up a feast and it was a blast to connect with all of Team Gregg, including Brian’s mom and brother, and Elias Bucher, who was working as their wax tech and later gave me and Holly a ride back to Zurich. I had missed Caitlin’s amazing bronze-medal winning race at World Championships by just one day, so she showed me her medal, too!

I spent a lot of time with Holly, who has been stopping by my house in Zürich in between stints racing the different FIS Marathon Cup races. She has a great blog about her experiences – she has won quite a few of the races and is the current leader of the Cup, but also is trying to figure out the logistics for some of these trips where Americans rarely, if ever, travel to the races. Her blog is a great mix of athletic stories, cultural experiences, and travel advice. She’s also working towards a masters degree in counseling psychology, and it’s absolutely amazing what she is juggling and excelling at simultaneously. Check out the blog here, or for a different perspective on the Engadin, you can read her post here (Holly finished fifth). Holly also saved my bacon in terms of getting me a ride to the start along with the Salomon team who was supporting her, and sharing her wax box with me so I could wax up my skis to be super fast. Mostly, though, it’s just always fun to hang out with this lady!

Holly was staying in an apartment in Samedan, about the midpoint of the race, which had been rented by her friend Tony (pictured with me and Holly at the sunny finish in the photo above!). I was very lucky that there was room for me to stay there too. Joining us was also Sarah Willis, an American who was in Sweden at the same time as me and is now doing a PhD in exercise physiology in Lausanne. Despite all the things we have in common we had never met, so it was really fun to hang out with Sarah. She’s also a super badass mountain running ultramarathon machine.

And finally, after the race we met up with a bigger U.S. crew and sat at a picnic table in the Engadin sun drinking beer. We were joined by Fast Big Dog and his friends, Tony, Team Gregg, and Inge Scheve and Kent Murdoch; I improbably ran into my friend Greg as he was walking by; and some other U.S. elite skiers who had competed dropped by and said hi.

It was a really nice weekend of reconnecting with part of my community, and although I was completely exhausted by the time I got back to Zürich (the drive was horrendous, the worst traffic ever in Switzerland), I was filled with a happy glow all week. Hooray for ski racing, skiing, and skiers!

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One of the promises I made to myself recently was to spend more time outside, more time on skis, more time exercising because it makes me feel good. I had sort of forgotten that for a while, or rationalized that I was “so busy” with starting my PhD that it was okay if I didn’t exercise for days on end…. then I wondered why I felt shitty.

On Saturday I gamely headed to the train station an hour before sunrise and hopped on a train for Graubunden. It was raining in Zurich. I got to Chur and switched to a bus. As we climbed up to Churwalden the rain turned to snow; I eventually got off in Valbella and headed into the Lenzerheide touring center. I’ve learned that in Switzerland, trails might not open until 9 a.m. on Saturdays. I guess the Swiss, with all their leisure and their money and their time, don’t start skiing at the crack of dawn like so many of the endurance junkies I know in the States. The kiosk was not open when I arrived at 8:30 so I didn’t buy a ticket: I just hit the trails.

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It had been snowing all night and was still snowing, so they weren’t exactly groomed. But it was really exciting to be back on skis for the first time since Christmas, and I had a great time tooling around for 2+ hours. It was slow going – I covered far fewer kilometers than the time would imply – but also totally beautiful. Unfortunately the connector trail from Valbella to the World Cup Cross Country trails and biathlon arena was closed, which was a bummer because I wanted to check out their biathlon stadium and see the course where Simi Hamilton won his first World Cup last season. Oh well, I’ll have to make another trip back.

As I was on the train home – hurrying to get back so I could meet my friend Lore at the train station as she arrived from Paris – I got a text from my friend Brook. He was taking a van full of high school skiers to Davos the next day. Did I want to come?

I thought for five minutes. I had planned to do work all day Sunday, and there was definitely a lot of work that needed to be done. But… a free ride to Davos… to ski… with a new friend…. yes, I was definitely going.

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Day two had all of the lovely snow, but it was no longer actually snowing and instead it was beautiful and sunny. I was tired from my snowstorm slog the day before, but I had a blast with the Zurich International School crew and it was the best snow conditions I’ve seen yet in Davos (I always seem to go there when there’s no snow).

By the end of our three hours skiing, I was completely exhausted. But when I collapsed into bed that night I did, indeed, feel very happy and satisfied. No matter what (and no matter if I’m out of shape and tired), skiing feels easy to me. My legs move in the right way, my core crunches. If I was running and I was the same amount tired, it would feel worse. Skiing I can rely on; skiing I can do. It’s nice to feel competent at something, especially as I start a new PhD where I often feel like I’m in completely over my head.

Cheers to more skiing!

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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.

ten ways assholes can obstruct you in the vasaloppet.

I made a joke about writing this as a blog post, and Simon sounded very enthusiastic. so here it is.

1) Well, what do you think? The most basic trick in the book: he can decide to switch tracks and then not look at the track he’s switching into. So then he skis right onto your skis while he’s doing it. (Women can also do this, but since women make up a very small portion of the Vasaloppet field, everyone who cut me off was a dude. Hence, from here on, I’m just going to say “he”.)

2) A little bit worse, he can look over, see you, and then switch into your track anyway, as if he just doesn’t give a shit. “My Vasaloppet is more important than your Vasaloppet,” you can see him thinking.

3) He can ski on your pole. Even though I was consciously keeping my poles as close to my body as I could, this had to have happened well over a dozen times. Somehow, even on flat sections, in the tracks.

4) Some people just don’t want to stay in the tracks – after all, the tracks are full and the trains are just not moving fast enough for their blazing fast skiing. So they ski in between the tracks, knocking people’s elbows and generally getting in the way as they go.

5) Downhills. A lot of people in the Vasaloppet do their training by rollerskiing on the flat Swedish roads, and have no idea how to ski downhill. So they’re going, going, going on the flats, pretty fast, and then they get to the downhills and whoooooaaa!! snowplow!

6) ….or worse, they just fall down. That’s definitely getting in the way. It doesn’t help that some folks have old floppy boots from about a decade earlier that don’t give them any ankle support.

7) I saw a few (mostly older) guys with such strange form that their pole plants were reallllllly, reallllllly wide. Like, they could be in the track beside you, but their poles were getting tangled up with where you were planting your poles or maybe even your skis! That’s not a very efficient way to ski 90 k… ouch. it hurts to watch.

8) This one’s a stretch, but all those people who dropped their water bottles or feed containers in the trail. It’s not very nice to ski over a water bottle, or to have to suddenly do a little bit of a hop to avoid one. Come on! Keep the trail clean! At least throw your plastic bottles and gel containers to the side!

9) Digging a gel out of their tights or drink belt: if your poles are still attached to your hands, you have to be careful with what you are doing with those hands! Poles start waving everywhere. More than once I thought I was going to break some guy’s pole that was sticking out like a start wand across my track as he tried to find the correct energy packet in his pants.

10) And finally, this maybe isn’t obstruction, but it is hilarious. At one of the feed stations a guy took a cup of blueberry soup, and then didn’t finish it. He made a gesture sort of like he was throwing it towards the trash can or the side of the trail… but instead he just threw it straight at me. So my whole right side was coated in blueberry soup for the rest of the race. Thanks, dude!

finish line.

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(I couldn’t bring my camera out on course for the 50 k, so this is a photo by my coworker Nat Herz/FasterSkier.)

We made it to the finish line! Sunday was the Olympic 50 k, the last race of the Games for nordic sports. They scheduled the competition for 11 a.m. which seemed a little cruel since nobody was used to getting up early, but I think the athletes appreciated it because the course was still icy and fast. We, however, were suffering when we staggered awake in the morning.

Immediately, some asshole almost ruined my day. His name is Johannes Dürr, and he is an Austrian skier. He’s had a good season, finishing third in the grueling Tour de Ski and eighth in the Olympic 30 k skiathlon. Yesterday morning, news leaked out that he had tested positive for EPO, the blood-boosting drug, and been kicked out of the Olympics.

A few days earlier, German skier/biathlete Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle had tested positive for a dubiously effective stimulant that she took accidentally in a supplement. We spent all day running around trying to figure out the story and what was going on. I was setting up for another day like that – and I was pissed. It was the last day, it was beautiful and sunny. All we wanted to do was watch the 50 k, write three easy stories (the nice thing about these long mass-start races is that the storyline is already there), and go home, be done, drink some beer, and celebrate having survived the Games. We did not want hours and hours of chasing down leads added in there.

Fuck you, Johannes Dürr. Not only are you a horrible person for cheating, but couldn’t I have a nice Sunday?

As it turned out, the story was quite straightforward. We gathered some information and quotes from other news sources. The IOC has not yet released its case files so nobody really has all of the details. After the first frantic push, trying to get something posted before the start of the 50 k, we mostly ignored young Mr. Dürr.

And luckily, someone else completely un-ruined my day. I will not name him or her for fear of getting them in trouble, but I was given a service bib for the last two days of racing. That meant that I could pretend to be team staff and actually get out to stand on the side of the course, not in the mêlée of spectators.

At the cross country venue, photographers can get on course but not journalists, and you can’t even see the trails from the mixed zone. So Alex and I had been running around in the crowds all week trying to get the best views, getting elbowed and jostled and sung at by drunk Norwegian, having crazy Russians hold up flags blocking our views just as the skiers were coming into sight, and being stuck behind tall people so we couldn’t see at all.

On Sunday, I just walked right out on course with the coaches. It was 50 degrees. I was wearing a t-shirt, short sleeves, and basking in the sun. I found a spot at the very top of the course where I would see the skiers four times in every 10 k loop, and I sat and enjoyed the race. Thank you thank you, unnamed friend, for giving me a bib!

The race was a great one, a very exciting way to finish the Games. There was a lot of drama – would Dario Cologna win his third gold medal? Answer: no, he broke a ski in the final 1500 meters, heartbreak. Would the Russians finally win their first gold in cross country skiing? Answer: better than that, they’d sweep the damn podium with a crazy and exciting and unbelievable final push up the hill and into the stadium.

We went back to the media center. I was sad to leave the sun.

We finished our stories and went home to our hotel. Nat and I went for a run. Then we all got dinner (which is another story in and of itself, maybe later), came back to our room, and drank some beer. We were so tired, so exhausted, that we got giggly and silly. The three of us worked well together all Games, although for sure there were times when we got frustrated with each other’s working styles and priorities. But to have an evening where we weren’t thinking about work at all, where it was all over, and we were just hanging out being friends – it was awesome.

We had been holding it together and pumping out stories because we had to. It wasn’t because we were even very capable of doing it. In one of my last headlines, I misspelled the word “Canada”. Nat really bungled “Sachenbacher” in another headline. We received an angry e-mail about a typo which said “skies” instead of “skis”. But more than the typos, my writing just way worse. The last report I wrote is one of the driest things I’ve ever published (luckily because of the storyline, it’s still received a ton of hits and a lot of comments).

Now that we don’t have to be holding it together, I feel crumpled and deflated, more like a corpse than a human being. You can live on willpower alone for a long time, but it does have consequences.

I can’t believe that Games are over. It’s been an exhausting, exhilirating, fun time. I want to do it all over again right now. No matter how hard it was, I don’t want to go back to normal life.