This past weekend all the GRP biathletes, as well as a few of us skiers who are giving biathlon a shot (pun intended), reunited in Jericho for USBA Rollerski Trials. The field was quite small with only 10 women and 13 men competing, but the competition was stiff with the best biathletes in the country toeing the line. These races, along with the trials races in August, are being used to select athletes for a pre-season USBA camp in Canmore. Both days featured a sprint race, which has two shooting stages (one prone and one standing) and is 7.5k in length for women and 10k for men. I always like rollerskiing in Jericho and it’s an added bonus to get to race there. We spend most of our summer on roads, which are not representative of ski trail topography, so it’s quite beneficial to rollerski on a paved track with steep hills and sharp corners that keep you on your toes.
This post will be written from the perspective of someone relatively new to biathlon and will focus on some of what I’ve learned from my experiences. I started doing some shooting two summers ago in preparation for competing in one of the 2015 August trials races. Since then I’ve raced one NorAm last winter and four rollerski trials races this summer and fall. The learning curve has been steep and far from linear. I’ve done countless ski races, but biathlon is really a whole different beast. For starters, there is a lot more to do and remember before you even get to the start line. You have to bring your rifle though equipment check, zero your rifle, remember to load your magazines, and make sure your rifle is actually on your back when you get to the start gate. Even once the race get’s underway there’s still quite a lot to think about. As you enter the range it’s important to make sure the wind hasn’t changed since you zeroed and if it has you must decide whether or not to adjust your sites. In a sprint race, you have to choose your shooting point, shoot, remember how many penalty laps you need to ski, and then correctly count your laps as you ski them (for every lap you neglect to ski you get a 2 minute penalty so you really want to ski the correct number of laps). Unlike in a ski race, where you usually compete on one single loop that you may ski multiple times depending on the length of the race, in biathlon you ski different loops during the same race so you also have to keep track of which loop you should be skiing. All of these things become slightly more difficult to remember when you’re in race mode and your brain doesn’t seem to be functioning at max capacity. However, it goes without saying that the more experienced you are the less you need to consciously think about all these processes and everything becomes second nature. Additionally, the more experienced you are the fewer penalty laps you usually have to ski… I remember being particularly overwhelmed last summer during my first biathlon race and I kept feeling as though I was forgetting something or was about to forget something. I’m happy to say that while shooting is by no means second nature to me and I still have a copious amount to learn, I am considerably more comfortable and confident than I was last summer and I’m continuing to enjoy the challenge of learning something new.
Some of my confidence has come from time and repetition while some has grown from experience and learning. I’m incredibly lucky to have a range in my backyard, awesome teammates who are always willing to answer questions and give advice, and a supportive shooting coach. The more times I take off and put on my rifle the easier it gets and the less I have to think about it. I’ve learned that it is worthwhile to back off a bit coming into the range if it means I have higher chance of hitting more targets. It’s always a bit of a shock to shoot with a high heart rate, but it is slowly becoming less shocking the more I do it. In fact, this past weekend was the first time I’ve felt reasonably comfortable shooting with a high heart rate. I’ve also gotten better at taking my time in the range even when my competitors are zipping in and out while I’m still on the mat. It’s certainly seems counterintuitive to relax and slow down in the middle of a race when you’re trying to get to the finish line as fast as possible, but spending a few extra seconds between shots to get a hit is worth it when each penalty lap takes about 20-30s to ski. For me, being slow in the range and slightly more accurate is better than being fast and incredibly inaccurate. Speed will come with time and practice, I hope. During my first biathlon race last summer, I skied way too hard into the range and then rushed through my shooting stages which needless to say didn’t go so well. While my results from this past weekend weren’t anything to write home about and certainly nothing an experienced biathlete would be psyched with, I was quite happy with some personal bests and that’s what matters at this point. However, my teammates certainly had some notable results which was quite exciting. Susan had a great weekend winning both races by a considerable margin. On Sunday, Emily shot clean for the first time ever and placed second which was awesome! Watching Emily’s improvement as a biathlete since she switched over from rowing has been quite inspiring. In the men’s race, Mike shot very well with only one standing miss and finished 5th. Not everyone had their best weekend of racing, but another thing I’ve learned about biathlon is that there are lots of ups and downs and persistence is a necessity. For a full run down of GRP results you can check out this news piece. And, of course, no blog post would be complete without some photos. Thanks for reading!