This year, US Nationals was a rollercoaster of emotions for me, but in honor of all the movies I watched while in Houghton I will report on that week using as many movie titles as possible. This was a period of high movie watching levels due to 3 things: we had lots of time on our hands because we were resting up for the races rather than training, we were away from Craftsbury so we couldn’t stay busy with our usual work projects, and we didn’t have wifi.
Let’s start with my series of unfortunate events along my journey to nationals.
I took the red eye out of Alaska to Chicago.
However, just as I dozed off, the intercom came on with a message from the Captain Phillips apologizing that the flight was cancelled due to the perfect storm on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
So then began my unexpected journey to Houghton which involved a 13 hour layover in Chicago during which I was trying to find a ski team that was driving from another city to Houghton since all the flights to Houghton were full until the races.
At this point I was starting to wonder if this nationals would be like my nationals from 2012.
I ended up buying a new plane ticket to Minneapolis where I spent the night (New Year’s Eve) in an airport hotel.
The next morning I thankfully got a ride with my Alma Mater University of Denver ski team to Houghton.
My bags and skis were not at the baggage claim so that made it all the easier to fit into the DU van.
After all the planes, trains, and automobiles I finally met up with the GRP in Houghton a day and a half later than I expected with my bags gone without at trace.
Finally in Houghton I could concentrate on the competition ahead. Without my skis and clothes I had to borrow from my very generous teammates. They graciously let me stink up their clothes. I did a time trial on the skate course using gear from 6 different teammates including myself.
As luck would have it, the conditions were cold, windy, and snowy so I had to borrow a lot more stuff due to needing more to avoid getting frozen.
We put tape over our faces and hot packets in our boots as feeling in our hands and toes were gone with the wind. My windproof base layers that I usually count on were still missing so I taped plastic bags to my long underwear to wear under my racing suit, which worked really well.
Luckily my skis came 2 days before my race, but my duffel with my ski boots and ski clothes didn’t arrive until after the first race. Once I had my red Alpina ski boots again I had happy feet that could ski to my full potential.
To put it lightly, I had a rocky start to Nationals. I felt fine but had embarrassingly bad results back in the seventies and even out of the top-100. For some reason I just couldn’t push out of Level 3, which is exacerbated the shorter the race is.
I wouldn’t die hard in the middle of the races, I would simply push hard the entire race but not be able to keep up with anyone. I tried not to let it affect my mindset of believing in myself and my training but I was very shaken.
However, rather than wallow in past disappointments I put my focus back to the future which at that point was the 30k classic mass start.
When the start list had fewer people starting than my finishing place the day before, I knew there was nowhere to go but up.
But even though it would be a true underdog story, and even if I might have been the only one who believed it possible, I knew I had a top-20 in me as long as I maintained a proper salt intake during the race to keep cramping at bay.
Additionally, while some like it hot, the cold weather is my specialty in classic skiing because with the resulting awesome kick, I can use a technique for striding that I simply can’t when the kick is hard to come by; a technique that I needed to use if I was going to have the great race that I was looking for.
Meanwhile, the GRP girls were having breakthrough results that were exciting to see. Liz had an amazing classic sprint getting on the podium. That really is impressive when you look at the other fast five in her A-Final. Caitlin also didn’t disappoint getting a personal best 2nd in the classic mass start (which happened after my 30k).
But back to my 30k. I went in with no expectations but determined to give it my all, and see how it played out once we skied into the woods.
I wasn’t ever going to take the lead but wanted to ski with the front pack as long as possible.
I made sure to be close to the front by the time it went from 4 tracks to 2, even if that did mean getting a little tangled up with some other skiers in the process. I expected a 700 hour training year to result in a much better nationals, but though the training doesn’t seem to be paying off yet I think my base contributed to avoiding the major cramps that usually plague me in long races.
Small cramps and just general tiredness is all I had to fight through in the last few kilometers. It took true grit to stay ahead of most of the people in the chase group and I am very happy with my 17th place result. Though I had much higher aspirations coming into this season, that 17th came as a relief after months of disappointment and it took everything I had.
A couple of days later the skate sprint was again not the race that I wanted.
Though the sting of another unimpressive nationals is still fresh in my mind, there is still plenty of season left to get out what I’ve put into this sport over the last year.
I know that I have the ability to turn it around before the Craftsbury SuperTours so that I can have the “catch me if you can” feeling again.
However, it may sound like I am depressed but that wouldn’t give you an accurate picture at all. In fact, I am overjoyed because I am recently engaged to the amazing Anne Elizabeth Ritter! Since we still don’t have a date set, some people are starting to wonder if this will turn into a five year engagement, but that won’t be the case surely.
However we still live over 1000 miles apart, so the gravity of the decisions we are making right now will impact how skiing fits into my life next year.
But for the next couple months at least, I need to just step up and enjoy my life as a semi-pro skier.
It isn’t hard to enjoy it either when the ski conditions are so incredible.