Here We GO…West Yellowstone, MT
The season has begun.
West Yellowstone presented all sorts of challenges this year. Mother Nature has not been kind to West Yellowstone so far this winter, at least in the eyes of a skier. Temperatures sat in the mid-30s and even low 40s all week, and while precipitation was plentiful, it was mostly in the liquid form.
Driving past the trails up to the Plateau…not promising (below)
The trails in town did not have enough snow to ski on all week so training and racing were moved up onto some U.S. Forest Service roads/trails on the South Plateau above town, at about 7-7,500 ft elevation or so. Since there was limited access and all sorts of road restrictions to get up to the Plateau, there was all sorts of waiting around down in town. Some days we waited in a line of cars for almost an hour before we could even drive up the USFS road. We were restricted to two trails/roads for skiing, the races barely managed to go off and they were heavily modified.
Road Block: Waiting to go skiing. Some days the line of cars would be 50 cars long or more.
Whole lotta mud, not a whole lotta snow.
The distance race became a point-to-point net uphill 9k. It was HARD. Going from sea level to racing above 7,000 ft in one week is painful. Because the trail is not wide enough to hold sprint heats, Saturday’s sprint race was modified into a point-to-point 1.6k prologue only and did not count in the Super Tour standings or as a World Cup qualifer. My races did not go well at all. Ever since I got back from Fairbanks, I have been really tired and my muscles have felt really flat. Speedwork, intervals and a couple time trials felt like I was moving in slow motion. Halfway through an interval or time trial my energy would suddenly just disappear, and despite my best efforts to keep my tempo up, keep my technique in good form and use my strength I would just feel like I was moving through sand. The feeling continued through the training week in West Yellowstone leading up to the races, and come race day, my body still wouldn’t cooperate and I just couldn’t find that next gear. I finished a demoralizing 59th place in the 9k skate race and a still slightly embarrassing 32nd place in the 1.6k skate sprint prologue.
I was frustrated after the races because I had really high hopes and have a lot riding on these two weekends, trying to qualify for the World Cups in Canada in December. It’s hard to not get down on myself when I’ve put in so much training and hard work all year and the first races are a complete and utter blowout. On the other hand, I have to remind myself that I have trained more this year than I ever have before, and combined with trying to work 25-30 hours per week at home and other life stressors, I probably haven’t been getting enough rest and recovery from my training that I should have or should be. Fortunately on the road, I get to sleep a LOT more and rest a lot more after training, so I’ve been feeling considerably better and my body has a bit more snap. I also spent a lot of time with my two best friends from college, Em and Claire, who were both in West helping coach their respective high school club teams. It was the first time the three of us had been together since graduation two-and-a-half years ago! It was so great to see them and hang out, catch up and just talk about everything, which is another way to relieve a lot of stress. They both made me feel so much better and helped me relax a lot. There was a lot of laughing going on. And laughter really can be the best medicine.
Claire, Em and I in West Yellowstone in 2006, our freshman year of college!
Another thing that helped brighten the mood this weekend was watching the American women on the World Cup KICK ASS and make history. In the opening weekend in Gaellivare, Sweden, Kikkan finished 3rd and Holly placed 5th in the 10k skate!!! Jessie and Liz were both having top-10 races too until they each fell on course. No American woman has ever been on the podium in a World Cup distance race. Then, to push the bar even higher, the following day they teamed up to place 3rd in the 4x5k relay. Holly hung strong in the scramble leg, Kikkan actually caught Therese Johaug, one of the fastest Norwegian skiers, on the second leg and tagged off to Liz in SECOND place, Liz turned on the burners and put the US within 4 seconds of Norway, tagging off to Jessie RIGHT behind Marit Bjørgen, who is almost certainly THE best female skier in history. Jessie lost one place after being passed by Charlotte Kalla, the 2010 Olympic Gold Medalist in the 10k skate, but she skied her heart out to hold off the second Norwegian team to put the USA on the podium for the first time in history, again. These girls are on FIRE, and it’s incredible to watch and think that we train with them on a regular basis, so it’s a huge motivator to know that we can be there too. A few years ago, there weren’t even enough American women on the World Cup to start a relay team, and now they are on the podium. Crazy exciting. I can’t wait to see what they do next!
We are now in Bozeman, MT for three races this weekend. Thursday will be the skate sprint that couldn’t be held in West, Saturday is a classic sprint and Sunday is a mass start classic distance race. Sprinting is my forte and so I have set my expectations higher again. Also, the courses in Bozeman will have some killer hills, which I think is to my benefit as opposed to a flat V2 course like in West. Oh, and the sun has been shining and it is wonderful.
Some more photos from the week in West Yellyrock…