Europe part 3

After a 1.3km classic sprint, 10km skate interval start and a 20km skiathlon, the individual races in the Czech Republic are now over. And what a humbling experience it has been.
As far as ski racing goes, I consider myself to be competent; in Canadian races it is rare for me to be off the podium. Coming to Europe, and for World Champs no less, I knew the competition was gonna be tough. I expected to not be on the podium at all. But I also expected to be relatively competitive. Now, after three races of finishing in the 40’s and 50’s competitive is not really a word I would use to describe my performances.
In the 10km skate especially I expected to be in the top 20 or 30, so, when I finished in 53rd position I was devastated. Wednesday after the race was definitely an all-time-low for me. It was, unfortunately, one of those days that makes me question why I ski. This has got me thinking quite a bit these last couple days, and finally, I have decided that my skiing career is now over.

Psych!!!!

I am definitely not finished with skiing!! But it’s true that I’ve been thinking (wow I didn’t know that he does that!), and so, I will try to define my train of thought here before it derails.  Grab your trusty bottle of voda and bare with me. . .
A bottle of “Voda”

So, why do I ski? Well, I like a lot of things about competitive skiing–in fact, I like most everything about the sport. I like training for skiing, I really like the people involved in skiing (seriously, skiers tend to be awesome people!), I like the places that skiing takes me and, generally, I especially like racing.
Why do I like racing? Firstly, I like to go fast! I love the variety of ski racing (this week I did three completely different distances of races using 2 different techniques on 3 different race courses!. Cool.). I like the feel of classic striding or one skating on and on up a big climb and I like the feeling of attacking the steeps with all the energy you got.  I like the feeling when you clip into your bindings only to feel the skis almost slip out from under you–they’re THAT fast–and I like the feeling of hammering that last hundred meters to the finish line when you think you can’t push anymore but actually you can!  I like the feeling of feeling of being absolutely exhausted after a race and, on good days, I even enjoy “the hurt” that I experience out on the trail. 
I like to chase the ever elusive “perfect performance” and I really enjoy the feeling of accomplishment you get after some solid results.
If I was asked to describe my personality in a few words, “competitive” would most certainly be one of them. For ski racing–for any kind of racing–this is an important character trait. But it can also be one’s undoing too.
When you have a lot of success in a sport it’s easy to start to focus on the rush that winning gives you. From there, you start to forget the other reasons you like your sport and you start defining each performance based on how you did relative to other people. Now please do not misunderstand!!! “The will to succeed” is what drives a person to the highest levels of his/her sport–if you don’t have it then you are probably not a competitive athlete! But it is certainly not everything.
After much success in Canada this year, (and for many years) I have started defining my performances relative to those of others. I have motivated myself during races with the thought of the podium. It is clear that, in international races, this won’t work. I can’t lose sight of my competitive spirt, but I must start coming up with reasonable goals. To use a nice cliché, I’ve got to “take baby steps” to make my way up the international ranks–and with my most recent results, up is the only way to go!!
Now you’re probably saying “wow, Zeke is such an idiot! Isn’t the ‘baby steps’ cliché drilled into athletes from the start?” “has it taken him 19 years to realize the obvious truth that you can’t climb Mount Everest in a day?” Apparently I learn best from experience (meh).

So what’s next? I’ve gotta start using a trait that does not make it into the short list of words to describe myself: patience.  I’ve gotta start evaluating races in a different way.  I’ve gotta start doing what I’ve been telling myself to do for awhile and treat each new race as a learning experience and as a rung in the proverbial ladder.  I’ve gotta start bridging the performance gap between domestic and international racing and I’ve gotta realize that it won’t happen over night.

And my thirst for success on the results list? It’ll have to go into hiding for awhile. But believe me: I have every intention of climbing that World Cup podium some day, and, even if it takes me years to get there, I will–as always–give it my damnedest to achieve my goals.

Ski fast, push hard (be patient) and Dream Big, People!!!!

Phew, Zeke is done with his crazy rant (and apparently speaking in third person). Zeke does not have that many cool pictures this time around (apologies), but, he does have a couple!  
Also enjoy the theme song for this trip (I swear every radio station in Austria and the Czech Republic plays this song, like, every 2 minutes.
Stoked to be rep’n team Canada!

The awesome Tinker Bell shoe mat in our wax room

This grammatically amazing sign directs people to the second buffet table in the Hotel Babylon! I resisted the urge to add a question mark after the first word.

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Goodbye Austria

Yikes!  It seems ages ago that I got off the plane in Munich while in reality it was only 5 days ago!  Where did those 5 days go?
Well, day number one was mostly a write off, apart from a nice an’ easy recovery ski in the PM.  
Monday’s highlight of the day was probably seeing a couple in a Grocery store in Ramsau buying their groceries while wearing ski boots!!  The sheer number of people out XC skiing on a Monday morning is very impressive.  Wish Canada was like this…
On Tuesday we explored Schladming (coolest name ever, right?) in the afternoon and it looked exactly like I expected a tiny European town to look–so I was psyched.
Wednesday was the most exciting day yet.  The plan?  A short distance skate time trial on the 1999 Nordic World Championship course in Ramsau.  Since Monday I had been having trouble with a sore neck and general fatigue and these problems had not been resolved by the time my 10:15 start time rolled around.  I debated even starting the time trial.  Luckily I decided to push through it and I came out feeling even better than before!!  Yay!
Thursday morning we said goodbye to Austria, at 9am, and embarked on what would become an epic journey.  Through snowstorms, under mountains, through Austrian restaurants and Czech gas stations we traveled.  We braved the peril of having to sit in a Czech gas station for over an hour while a windshield-wiper was fixed, and we braved a Mcdonalds, (seriously, these places are scary) in Praha (the real name for Prague, which might actually beat Schladming on my cool names list) in the hopes of getting directions out of Praha.  The drive took much longer than expected. 
Finally, over 12hrs later, we made it to the Hotel Babylon in Liberec which will be our home for the next over-a-week.
The first thing that hit me on arrival was how ridiculous the hotel Babylon is.  I’m gonna try to post up some sweet shots on twitter or facebook later, but, suffice it to say that it’s flamboyant in a gratuitous manner.  It has a Casino, a “4D theater”, a spa AND an aqua-park built in–so that illustrates things a bit.
We got into the crazy hotel around 10pm last night and got to bed around 11:30 after the epic journey.  Which finally brings me to today!
As much as I really liked being in Austria, I felt like there was something missing; I discovered what that was when we went out to ski on the race course today.  The few days that we spent in Austria had much more of a training camp feel to me.  Now–don’t get me wrong–I love training camps, but I am here to race.  And for me, at this point in the year, nothing beats the “racing atmosphere” whose air you start to breath that first day you show up to ski at the race site.
Although they don’t have all that much snow at the race site here and although they have very few trails open, the excitement of skiing on a World Cup course, with World Champs just a few days around the corner, is palpable.
So, to finish things up I will list my top 5 stokes and my top 5 annoyances of the past week (or so).


Here’s that bad first:
Neck pain: I had a super-sore neck for the first part of the trip in Austria and it was giving me symptoms similar to my big injury last year.  Stressful.

Eurosport: So far Eurosport has only played snooker and tennis.  Huge letdown.

No Soap: We had no soap in our bathroom in Austria!  Ahhhh!!!!!

Traffic: Turns out they have traffic in Europe too.  And we encountered it on our drive.

Annoying weather:  We drove through a very legit snow storm on our way here but all the land North of Prague, including Liberec and the race site, has very little snow.  So far the race course is a less-than-2.5km loop (but they do have the snowmaking machines running!).


And the Top 5 cool things:
European Yogurt drinks: ‘Nuff said.

National Team clothing: I am still soooo stoked about this gear.  Makes me feel way more pro than I actually am.

Wax support: We get our skis waxed every day!!  The support team is awesome.

Names of European hamburgers:  “Royal with Cheese!!!!”  If you don’t get the reference, watch Pulp Fiction right now!!

Race site: The course is really fun even though they only have a less-than-2.5km loop and it’s so cool to be skiing at a World Cup/World Champs site (they held World Champs in 2009 I think).


Only a few more days to go till the first race day!

Dream big, people–and check out the sweet picture below!!
Schladming

The Dachstein Glacier is up there somewhere

More Schladming

Yogurt Drinks!!

Cool woodwork on our balcony in Austria

Inside of the main room in our lodgings in Austria

A “Royal with cheese!!!!”

These last three pictures are taken from the hill above the stadium at the race site in Liberec

Now in Europe!

For the last week, starting with the announcement of my appointment to the Canadian World Junior Champs Team at Trials in ThunderBay, I have been pretty busy.  I have not had too much time to breath between preparing for my departure to Europe, starting the new school semester and even fitting in a shift at Fresh Air!  While there has been much to do, there has really only been one thing on my mind: World Champs.  I’m still finding it hard to believe that I’ve actually made it–even while I sit here writing this in the common area of the Canadian U23/Junior Team’s lodgings in Ramsau am Dachstein Austria!!

To get to where I am now has been exciting per se.  Soon after leaving my house on the 12th I hopped on a plane bound for Toronto.  After that it was time for the 8hr flight over to the other side of the pond–a trip that I’ve never taken before!  The flight was pretty uneventful and, for my part, it was spent mostly in a state somewhere between sleeping and waking.  At the end of the flight we (me and the rest of the team) found ourselves in Munich Germany, where we enjoyed some fine European Cuisine from a little bakery at the airport.  Shortly after, we hooked up with Lisa Patterson (the Team Canada trip co-ordinator) and drove the 2hr drive into Austria.

So far we’ve been skiing twice on the beautiful trail system that we can access straight from our front door.  We will stay and continue to train on these trails until Thursday, when we’ll drive over to the competition site in Liberec Czech Republic.  One of the cool things about the place where we’re at now is that it’s a go to training site for many top level skiers; there are signed pic’s from Kikkan Randall, Alex Harvey and a bunch of other World Cup skiers on display in the main restaurant area!!

Currently, I have about an hour to kill until we make a snack run to Schladming.  So, what’ll it be?  Nap time?  Or sledding?  Being a ski racer isn’t all work and no play!

Check out my new Twitter account for updates over the next couple weeks–I’ll try to post up some pictures of the beautiful scenery around here on it, so as to illustrate things a bit.

Dream big, people!!

Trials

Happy 2013 everyone!

On December 30th of last year I hopped on a plane to Thunder Bay.  This year, World Junior Trials (the Canadian qualifier event for Worlds) was to be held in this northerly town on the edge of Lake Superior from January 3rd-6th; I wanted to get in a couple of days of pre-race training on the race courses.  My team was not showing up until the 1st of January, so I spent my first two nights rooming with my friends Greg Kilroy (the Cross Country Canada athlete rep) and Leif Lenny (former NDC Thunder Bay athlete).  Huge thanks to them for putting me up, and to their landlord (none other than Adam Kates, coach of Lakehead University and Big Thunder ski teams!) for lending me a super comfy mattress so I didn’t have to crash on the couch!

After some solid pre-race training days at Lappe Nordic I moved, on the 1st, into the hotel where my team would stay until our return to Ottawa on the 6th.  On Thursday (the 3rd), the first race of the event was relatively late in the day.  I don’t think I have ever been more stressed before a race in my life.  At 1:17pm, the “3 minutes to start” was shouted out over the speakers at the Nordic Centre, and I pulled off my warm-ups and stepped into my skis.  “2 minutes to start.”  “1 minute.”  “30 seconds. . .”

At the beginning of the training season last year, I posted up a big piece of paper on my wall.  It was to be a map.  At the top I wrote “goals for May”.  At the bottom I wrote “qualify for and place top 30 in each race at Worlds”.

. . .and the race started.

I have been pretty confident about my abilities this year but, unfortunately, in sport and in life, nothing can be taken for granted–and there’s always a part of you, deep down, that has doubts.
As it turned out, the skiathlon on Thursday was one of the better races I’ve had, and I managed to carry that momentum into the classic sprint race on Saturday, and the 15km skate race Sunday.
Finally after the skate race (and an hour or two of anxious anticipation in the Lappe Nordic lodge!) I was congratulated and informed that I had made the Canadian Junior Team for Worlds!!!!  I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited.

So!  Now comes the hard part.  Next Saturday I’ll leave Ottawa for Europe–and the most competitive, intense races of my life!  I am so stoked.

This last week has been an amazing one–and not just for me!  I’d like to give a shout-out to Katherine and Patrick Stewart-Jones, fellow teammates who made the Junior Worlds and U23 Worlds teams respectively!!  I also have to make a shout-out to all the other Nakkertok athletes who did so well this past week: more than once it was one of you guys at the finish line first.  Congrats!!
HUGE thanks to the awesome Nakkertok support team as they did everything and more to make this week a best ever.  Huge thanks to SuperMikeVieira for the years of coaching that have prepared me, and many other athletes for this event, and–of course–for the spirited race motivation and cheering!!  And, last but most definitely not least, huge thanks to my awesome coach Kieran, who has done everything to make me and the other Nakkertokers SUPERFAST!

Find pictures from the event here: http://www.lappenordic.ca/gallery.html

Find results here: http://new.zone4.ca/

The race season has only just begun: dream big, people!!