U23 Trials

The last couple weeks have been taken up by all sorts of excitement surrounding the World Under-23 Champs trials races and, of course, the races themselves. Instead of posting up an Adventures in Wonderland Part 2 like I said I would, I’m gonna put that on hold for a bit and give a you some insight into the roller coaster of emotions that trials 2014 was for me.

With Canada’s top U23 and junior skiers vying for spots on one team or another, the trials races are as important–if not more important–than the Canadian national championship races later in the season. Add to this the fact that this year the U23 trials races are also the Sochi Olympic trials races, and you get every high-level xc skier in Canada peaking for the mid-January race weekend.
My big goal for this season was to qualify for world U23 champs, so at the end of December, with two weeks to go before the big competition, I made it my mission to do everything I could be to be ready for the U23 trials races. I napped everyday, I aimed for over 10 hours of sleep each night, I stretched and foam rolled, I did some hard intensity and I went over and over the races, visualizing technique and tactics in my mind. On January 8th, the night before the first race, I went to bed feeling calm. I had prepared more thoroughly than ever before for these races. I told myself: “tomorrow I am going to have the best race of my life.”

Now, at the end of this story there is good, and there is bad. In similar situations, I always ask for the bad first, so, here it is…
The bad: I didn’t make the world U23 Champs team. It sucks. When you train for 9months with a specific goal in your sights and then you don’t achieve that goal it’s pretty hard to take. The things is, if you are setting high goals for yourself chances are you aren’t gonna achieve all of them.
One of my endeavours as an athlete is to also be a stoic. Through the good and the bad I try to be philosophical: to not be afraid to fail, to not get hung-up on my victories and to learn what I can from both failures and victories and then leave them behind me. This is hard for me to do sometimes because I have a bit of a roller coaster personality–my highs are soaring and my lows are crushing. Even when I know what I have to do and how I have to behave, it’s hard to get back up and keep going.
Well, it’s taken me a couple days and a lot of iPod time, but I’ve finally come to terms with the this failure and I’m looking ahead again instead of behind. As I friend of mine wrote in her blog, you gotta always look for the positives–and what’s the positive I can take away from this? Getting knocked down makes me motivated. In each race for the rest of the year I will be racing angry, and for the whole 2014 off-season I will be training with more determination than ever before. 2015 World U23s? Watch out.

The good: Now that I’m on the topic of positives, I really did achieve a lot in the last week of racing. In fact, what I told myself on the evening of the 8th came true. I had my best ever result–placing 9th, 2nd U23, in the classic 15km on January 9th (ha, cool, I only just realized the result and the date are the same)–and then I stepped it up again in my next race, a skate sprint race on the 11th. Here’s how it went down…
I am very confident in my skate sprint qualifiers. I knew what I had to do the morning of the 11th, I raced relaxed and I qualified in 10th place.
The heats were the tricky part. In the two sprint races I had already done this season I had made some serious tactical errors in the heats. With sprint races in Canmore being almost always decided at the finish (because of a long downhill near the end that, through drafting, tends to close any gaps in the field) so I knew that the sprints here were going to be especially tactical–I’d have to ski smart. I planned to ski relaxed and easy, conserve energy and, unless I thought I could get a big enough lead on the last hill, save it for the finish.
The first heat went perfectly. I skied in the pack until the last downhill, drafted my way to near the front and went on to the semi finals without any trouble. In the semi final I used pretty much the same tactics for the first part of the race, but then ended up near the front on the last uphill before the big downhill at the end. Cresting the uphill, me and my teammate Phil were right at the front of the pack and nobody wanted to lead and get drafted on the downhill. The pace slowed… and then Phil put in a hard sprint over the top of the hill! I jumped in behind him and we opened a small gap between us and the rest of the field. The two of us managed to keep the gap right down the finish straight, and so I went on to my first ever A-final in the senior age category!! I was psyched. In the A-final I finished 5th, 3rd place U23, gaining my first ever NORAM podium! I think I looked like a bit of an idiot at the podium: most excited guy to finish 5th ever.
I’m in the yellow hat on the far right! Yay for 5th! Cool fact: this entire podium is Alberta World Cup Academy athletes.
Finally, on Sunday it was the 30km skiathlon (where you switch from classic to skate skis halfway through). With two solid first races I was easily in contention for qualifying for U23s before this race, but I just couldn’t stay with the lead group. I had my worst result of the weekend and ended up just missing the qualifying spot. Oh well.

Check out Zone4.ca and search “NORAM” for full results from the weekend.

All disappointment aside, it was a bit of a break-through race weekend for me, finishing not only top 10, but top 5 for the first times ever. Most importantly, I learned a lot and I’m very much looking forward to my next race weekend–Eastern Canadian Championships–back home in Cantley Quebec. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Dream Big!

Adventures in Wonderland

This is part one of a two part blog on the interesting ski-events that I’ve taken part in during the last month. Part 1 is about the early season NORAM races and part 2 (which I’ll release later this week) is about my first Christmas of adventures away from my Ottawa home. Look for more pictures in part 2… I’m not very good at taking photos on race weekends. Enjoy!

Silverstar is so nice
At the end of November 2013 we (the Alberta World Cup Academy) departed for Silverstar. I was pretty excited about the trip because it was going to be my first race trip with the Academy and because, after racing in Silverstar last season, I had kinda fallen in love with the place. For those of you unfamiliar with Silverstar, it pretty much defines “winter wonderland”. The cool thing about it is that it combines a very picturesque little mountain village, alpine skiing, cross country skiing and a crazy amount of early-season snowfall into one little location. The fact that the race venue (Sovereign Lake Nordic) has held World Cup races kinda speaks for itself.
After our first few days of skiing it became apparent that it was gonna be brutally cold during the upcoming races. The lowest temperature that you’re allowed to hold a ski race in is around -20 Celsius (you can damage your lungs if you race in much colder weather than this) and the highs for the weekend were hovering right around -20.
Waking up the morning of the first race–a 15km skate interval start–we still weren’t sure  if the race was gonna go ahead. Finally, after delaying the race until closer to midday, the officials gave the nod. I was in the Lord of The Rings fan club condo (we listened to the Hobbit sound track, like, all week) so some choice motivational LOTR quotes were spoken and then it was off to the races!
Unfortunately, after the beep, beep, BEEP of the race clock signaling my start, the motivational quotes were quickly forgotten. A consequence of racing at -20 is that the snow is BRUTALLY slow. I actually looked down at my ski midway through the race because I thought something was wrong with it, the glide was so bad.
The race culminated with my teammate, Patrick, catching up to me with about 2.5km to go and the two of us having a pretty sweet sprint for the finish. After the race we learned that there were places on course where it was well below minus 20… I was thankful I had worn mittens.
The next day was a classic sprint. Again cold weather interfered and again the race wend ahead after a delay. The classic sprint was even more disappointing for me than the skate 15k. I made it through the qualifier just fine, but got tripped up and crashed right at the start of my quarter final and, thus, didn’t go through to the semi’s. On top of this, I broke a brand-new pole in the crash!!! Not my best day.
Our Condo in Silverstar

I had felt pretty stressed (for a number of reasons unrelated to skiing) and fatigued leading up to the Silverstar races and I think these things led to me not racing my best. Thankfully, after a gorgeous day of skiing the recreational trails on Silverstar mountain, we moved on to NORAM #2 in Rossland BC; another two opportunities for me to put down some solid early season races.

This was my first time in Rossland and the first thing that struck me on arrival was the grocery store. My maple syrup container AND my Olive Oil container had some how both exploded on the drive over, ruining some of the food I’d packed from Silverstar and leaving me none-to-pleased. But, when I arrived at the Rossland grocery store to replace my ruined food, my disappointment turned to wide-eyed excitement: the store here had way more selection than Canmore and it was cheaper!! It was a wondrous store to behold.
Just like in Silverstar we arrived in Rossland on Tuesday evening, so we had 3 days to ski the trails in preparation for our races. Our races in Rossland were opposites (technique-wise) of Silverstar–a skate sprint on Saturday and a 15k interval start classic on Sunday. The 5km loop that we would be using for our 15k was brand new and it looked to be one of the toughest NORAM race courses yet, with almost 200m vertical of climbing each lap. The skate course was slightly more boring with respect to its hilly-ness, guaranteeing some very tactical sprint heats. As the weekend came round I felt ready. I had prepared better in the week leading up to it; I felt more energetic than in Silverstar.
On Saturday morning I made it through the qualifier as expected. Going into the quarter final my goal was to go off super-hard at the start so as not to get tangled up and crash like at Silverstar–and I achieved this goal perfectly! I went to the start right away and led for the first 3rd of the race. Unfortunately, I think I ended up wasting a bit too much energy at the start because I died a bit at the end and didn’t make it through to the semi finals. All the same, I learned a lot more in this sprint than at Silverstar so I felt a lot better about it.
I’ve been keeping a journal lately, so I thought this “how-to” book on the subject (which happened to be the only book in our condo in Rossland) was pretty awesome.

Sunday dawned bright and early. In preparation for a good hard 15k we listened to Harder Than You Think, on the drive to the race site. If you’re ever looking for a solid pump-up song for workouts or exams or any performance situation, this one is it.
With most of the climbing on course being in the form of a couple REALLY steep hills, I knew that I had to have bomber grip on my skis for this race, so I went back twice, after wax testing, to get more wax put on and just made it to the start on time.
I was happy right away with my choice of tons of grip wax, but it turned out that the first hill out of the stadium was iced over whereas out on the big hills on course the snow was softer. When I hit the top of the first big hill out on course I almost fell flat on my face; snow had built up in my kick zone as a bounded up the hill and it stopped me in my tracks. “No!!” I thought, “I’m going to be walking down the hills for the next 12km!!” But after 10 meters or so of fast striding to scrape off the snow my skis were gliding again. I would’ve breathed a sigh of relief if I had enough breath.
As the race went on I continued having to “fast-stride” the snow off my skis at the top of each hill to prevent myself from having a nice face-first in the snow experience, but I looked at the positive side of things: the snow build up on my skis allowed me to pretty much run up all the steep grades on the course. 
After about 45min of suffering out on the race course, I crossed the finish line to one of my best NORAM results ever! I really felt my new higher level of fitness in this race, but I kinda under-estimated it. Looking at the lap times afterwards my 3rd lap was over 30 seconds faster than either of the laps before it!! I gotta trust myself to be able to push harder right of the start line.

Almost directly after the race we left town (goodbye amazing grocery store…. *tears*), and drove back to Canmore through an exciting snow storm. So ended my 2013/14 season of early racing… but the ski season has only just begun!

For results from the two weekends of racing check out Zone4.ca (search: “NORAM”), and for a couple articles from the two weeks from a more team based perspective, check out my Team’s Website.

Dream Big!