Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Travel Tips for Smarties

When I jumped on the plane in Albany last week I was ready to enjoy my most organized and easy travel experience to date. I was headed to Europe for four weeks of OPA Cup racing and had never felt more prepared for a trip. That actually says a lot because I tend to think of my self as a preeetty organized person.
Just enough...not too much...nailed it!
I had come to think of myself as a sage travel guru, the leader people turn to when luggage is lost and itineraries need editing. Oh how wrong I was....even after countless ski trips that have built up my travel smarts I still managed to make my fair share of mistakes this time around. So for all the other smart travelers out there...a few tips...

Oh the places you'll go....Welcome to Switzerland!
Travel Tips for Smarties

1. Call your bank...and check with them twice

Following the most basic travel tip out there, I called my bank a full week before my trip to inform them of my travel plans. Like people, banks aren't perfect, and as soon as I left Vermont my money was useless. Typically the solution is an easy the bank and kindly remind them that you are traveling. Turns out this minor problem becomes a much bigger one when your travel plans fall on a Sunday and President's Day Monday. My advice: more than one credit/debit card and back-up cash. This also brings me to my next tip....

2. Travel with Friends

From loaning you lunch money to helping problem solve two heads are better than one.
Reunited with my buddies :) 

3. Count your bags-write the number on your hand

This was a new one for me and probably my big mistake. I thought I was "oh so smart" for checking my boots separately from my ski bag in order to avoid overweight baggage fees. That was until I arrived in Campra, Switzerland and realized my ski boots were still sitting on the luggage carousel in the Munich airport. Enter minor hysterics and a frantic search for wifi...
Maybe the best delivery I have ever received

But really how can you be upset when you have a room like this...
A view like this...
And skiing like this!
4. Skype or Whats-App for your phone

If you don't have a phone that works in Europe, download Skype or Whats-App for your smartphone. Both work with wifi and were lifesavers as I attempted to track down my left baggage

5. Accept that you can't control everything

For travel smarties, understanding that not everything can be planned and prepared for is probably the biggest tip I have (and also the one I have the hardest time following). At some point you just have to enjoy the ride!
Chelsea of APU taking full advantage of the balcony
Fortunately, our first week in Europe was a pretty sweet ride. Imagine living in one of those picturesque postcards that your adventurous uncle sent you from his trek across the Swiss Alps and that pretty much sums up my experience in Switzerland. We were in a dreamland and loving every minute of it.
Hotel Casa Lucomagno post 18 inch snow storm
What: OPA Cup Mini-Tour (3 races). The mini tour included a skate sprint, classic 10km, and skate 10k pursuit

After a long trip across the pond, the first OPA Cup races offered a chance to get my feet under me. The races turned into a rather challenging competition between my race-ready head and my rest-weary body. However despite feeling a little jet-lagged, I was thrilled to start off the OPA trip strong with two top 10 finishes (and my best classic distance at OPAs to date)!

Summer sun to winter storms, Switzerland had it all
Who: U.S. OPA Cup Team (mix of junior/U23/senior athletes)

Annie H. starting her sprint semi-final

Tyler Kornfield, Reese Hanneman and Annie cheering for Team USA

Where: Campra, Switzerland-a tiny ski town that rests in the narrow mountain valley of Olivine in Ticino, Switzerland
Rosie and I enjoying the views during an evening run

When: Last weekend! (Friday, Saturday, Sunday)
Thomas O'Harra leading his sprint heat
Why: OPA Cups are the central European equivalent of SuperTour races....except faster. This trip is one of the National Nordic Foundation's pillar projects for the development of cross-country skiing in the U.S. Learning to race in Europe and race well not only builds confidence but is key to racing successfully at the World Cup level. The trip has been an invaluable experience for me the last two years

Jennie B ripping it up in the sprint heats.
From Switzerland I travel to Slovenia and then on to Austria and France with the OPA crew. We have many more races ahead and opportunities to take some steps on that podium. Wish us luck!
Picture perfect.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Happiness Advantage

Best part of crossing the finish line....hugs from a familiar friend and former Dartmouth teamie :) Thanks to all of the Dartmouth Team for helping pull-off an awesome SuperTour/Carnival/Eastern Cup event!
Last weekend I landed on the SuperTour podium for the first time this year and for my first time ever in a sprint race. After the weekend, my dad asked me what had changed..when did I become a sprinter? I have been chasing my sprint-y teammates around for a while now, and in every speed practice I get my butt kicked just a little bit less... but it wasn't like things just clicked overnight. A million different things contribute to a race result, including skis, warm-up, fueling, training, course, temperature etc. but sometimes a simple thing like happiness can make all the difference.
Women's skate 10km podium. Annika Taylor and I tied exactly for 2nd place!

Skate sprint podium and lots of smiles! From left: Chelsea, Becca, me, Jennie, Heather Mooney and Kaitlyn
The last few weeks in Vermont have been a skier's paradise...waves of snow pounding the mountains, ample sunshine between storms and groomed beaches of white, perfect for cruising on skinny skis. And I have been LOVING it! Yes, I missed my teammates over in Europe.. but I have been having lots of fun solo adventures in the woods, snow days with the Caldwell family and have adopted a serious hot chocolate habit (mini marshmallows are a must). I also started reading a book called the "Happiness Advantage" by Shawn Achor. The book suggests that happiness leads to success rather than the other way around. The idea is simple, and for some maybe obvious, but one worth considering and remembering especially mid-season when motivation sometimes wanes. After a week filled with snow and sunshine, the racing became the cherry on top of the an added bonus to an already awesome week and an opportunity to make it even better.

Cruising during the skate sprint qualifier

A few of the things that contributed to my "happy"

Chasing Dave Sargent aka "Toad" around the backcountry trails that wind through the trees behind the Sargent's home
My group, the "rainbow unicorns," lined up for an awesome Ski with the Stars event at Craftsbury where the SuperTour athletes partnered with local junior skiers for a fun teaching and relay ski event. Nothing like watching kids hammer around an obstacle course and slide down snow piles to make you smile:)
Uh-mazing waffles thanks to  Lindy Sargent!
A little post bath relaxation courtesy of Dorian and Scott who graciously hosted us during the SuperTour races at Craftsbury. Thank you both!
Cleaning snow off the roof at the Caldwell's and Lilly taking care of the drive
There was plenty of it!
Helping Sverre clean the stink pipe! One of the highlights of my week for sure!

Seeing my buddy Lander rock the mic for live FasterSkier coverage of the SuperTour races

Solo sledding and snowshoeing in the storm. Selfies became my go to since all my teamies were in Europe.

New hats and headbands thanks to Sauce headwear featuring my main individual sponsor, the Women's Sports Foundation 

Sunny Vermont morning
Although happiness might not be the only contributor to racing success, I do believe it is something worth cultivating and an important part of racing fast or performing at any level. The happiest person may not always end up on the podium...but at least they enjoy the opportunity to chase it. Even if they fall short, I bet they still finish the day with a smile.
Lots more happiness on the way...Switzerland!
I am now filling the happiness jar even higher with plentiful sunshine and skiing in Campra, Switzerland where we kick off four weeks of OPA Cup racing in Europe! More to come on that later...Ciao!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Learning to Love Jumbo Shrimp

The lineup for classic sprint final at Craftsbury this weekend
Classic sprinting has always been my version of jumbo shrimp. The phrase seemed contradictory to me, an oxymoron that attempted to incorporate the smooth, relaxed stride of classic skiing with the pace and speed of sprinting. I didn't get it. Classic sprints were always my weakest event, one that I struggled to understand and had convinced myself would never be my strong suit. Then I joined a team of sprinters. I quickly found that if you get your butt kicked enough times, your body eventually learns how to not get its butt kicked.
And we are off!
If I didn't want to keep eating at the back of the buffet line, I was going to need to develop a more sophisticated palette for the jumbo shrimp of ski racing. This past weekend, some of that speed practice started to come together and I am psyched to say that classic sprinting is finally starting to make sense.
BIG THANKS to Zach Caldwell, Patrick O'Brien and Brayton Osgood for their pro waxing and making sure I had fast skis all weekend.
Back to back SuperTour weekends in Craftsbury, VT kicked off last Friday with a classic mass start 20km. Craftsbury is a nordic skier's heaven. The outdoor center offers endless kilometers of perfectly groomed trails, ample snow (and snow-making when the natural stuff is scarce), some of the best food you can imagine cooked with local fare and lots of friendly volunteers who work tirelessly to make sure the races run smoothly.
Pretty sweet skiing in Northern Vermont! Thanks to the Sargent family and to Scott and Dorian in Craftsbury for hosting Pat and I all week.
Fresh and falling snow made for tactical skiing in the women's race. Rather than the field stringing out, a group of 7-15 women skied in a pack for almost the entire 20km. I felt good throughout the race, making a move for the front at the end but finishing the day just short of the podium in 4th place.
Leading the train of ladies around 10km

Tight finish sprint left me wanting a little bit more...I think this is my new "pain face"
Women's 20km podium
After a break for the Craftsbury Marathon, we resumed the SuperTour on Sunday with a classic sprint. My goal was to ski relaxed, not frantic, and treat each round as an opportunity to practice this classic sprinting thing. Tempo started to mix with glide and as the day progressed, the idea of trying to sprint on classic skis seemed less absurd and actually within reach. I finished the day in 4th, just missing the podium after a 3-way double pole drag race for 2nd and skiing to my best classic sprint result to date!
Double poling the final 100m...pain face in action!
Classic sprinting may never be my strength as a skier but I do believe I have developed a better taste for it and I'm psyched to see where that can take me!

Below is some inspiration worth sharing from a few of my favorite female athletes, mentors and friends in sports!

Celebrating the everyday victories. My sister joined a number of Dartmouth skiers to race the Craftsbury Marathon 50km on Saturday in honor of her former teammate Torin Tucker. Torin passed away during this race one year ago and was a true friend to all who knew him.
I skied a lap of the race course with the little sister friend and loved chasing her smile through the woods.
Alexi Pappas: What the President Said
I met Lexi Pappas while at Dartmouth and have been in awe of her many talents ever since. A comedian, movie writer and producer, and 2016 Olympic hopeful, she now runs for the Nike Track Club in Eugene Oregon is definitely one to follow. This article about her visit with the president is well worth your while.

Annie Pokorny: Trash Talking and Peacocking
If you haven't read it already...DO! This article was written by my teammate and friend Annie Pokorny for the Riveter Magazine...she is now an officially published author! The article also features some interesting perspectives from U.S. Ski Team athletes Liz Stephen, Andy Newell and Canadian gold medalist Chandra Crawford.

Chandra Crawford after winning Olympic Gold in Torino, Italy 2006
One of the best post race interviews I have ever seen.

Sub-5-minute miles to make you smile
Annie Hart's interview after finishing 27th place at her first World Juniors is a a close runner-up to Chandra's.  I think her voice has gotten a little higher since this was filed, but Annie has always had a way with words. This clip is sure to put a smile on your face. Annie also posted the top U.S. female result at U23 Champs yesterday and SMS Junior Katherine Ogden finished 11th at World Junior Champs today!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Reaching for the Red Line

Every athlete has their version of "the pain face". Some skiers proudly foam from the mouth, embracing the frozen drool that clings to both buffs and beards. Some skiers look angry while others appear on the verge of tears, and some simply look lost as their eyes roll back in their head, limbs wobbling precariously on a pair of skinny skis. To give you an idea...
Me illustrating the sad hurt face
My former teammate Eric Packer in full attack mode
Izzy Caldwell modeling both anger and drool
Heather Mooney of Middlebury and SMS embracing the drool (FlyingPoint photo)
The finish zone is a gallery of suffering, a place for spectators to view, grimace, and admire the physical manifestations of pain. Athletes push, reach and sometimes supersede their limits, offering an impressive (and at times ugly) show of grit and will power. I have come to appreciate, even envy the pain faces of others, so I was rather surprised last weekend when "the pain face" was not celebrated, but shunned at the finish line.

Last Friday and Saturday, I raced at the UVM College Carnival in Stowe along with SMS junior Katherine Ogden and the trusted support of our coach Pat. We started the weekend with a 5km skate race followed by a 10km mass start classic race. I finished 3rd on Friday, less than 10 seconds behind winner Katherine and looked to improve upon that result on Saturday. Fatigue from the week caught up with me however and I ended the day in 5th. After crossing the finish line and taking a few heavy breaths over my poles, I proceeded to shuffle out of the finish zone, encouraged by eager volunteers waiting to clear the area. Around me, a few girls had sprawled on the snow, their chests heaving up and down in obvious exhaustion. I could hear one female voice badgering some of the women in the finish zone, obviously annoyed by the athletes crowding the area, and yelling "C'mon ladies, let's go, get up, keep moving...(and finally)... the BOYS could stay on their feet why can't the girls?!"

I immediately had two thoughts cross my mind:

One...The boys obviously didn't try hard enough if they could stay on their feet and you, lady, have a rather distorted version of what happens to an athlete, male or female, after giving absolutely everything in a ski race.

And two...Why am I not laying on the ground?!

To be fair, the volunteers at Trapps are wonderful and it is their job to keep the athletes clear of the finish line for both safety and timing purposes. However, the gender bias evident in this particular woman's comment stuck with me. In that instant, she had reinforced the tired narrative of female weakness and inferiority to men. She also managed to do so in a context that actually criticized female athletes for doing exactly what they are supposed to do...find their limit.
The best women in the world laying it all out there at the 2014 Sochi Olympics
And yes, the best men in the world also collapse at the finish line
Gender bias aside, I suddenly wished I was lying in the ground. When I crossed the finish line I had felt no need to collapse. My legs were tired, my lungs hurt, I had raced hard, but had I really reached for that red line? As I looked at the women on the ground around me I realized that perhaps I had something more to give... and that was maybe the most disappointing thing of all.

Gotta make these things grow...and make these things hurt!
I may not fall across the line in every race enter but I do believe it is a goal worth striving for. Much like the pain face, collapsing at the line (and not just for dramatic effect) is something to be both respected and admired, regardless of whether you are a dude or a dudette. With a few months left in the season, each race is a new opportunity to reach for that line and find that limit. When I truly give a race everything I have, to the point where I physically and mentally collapse at the finish line...that will be a success. On to Craftsbury for back-to-back SuperTour weekends this week and lots more racing action to come!
Midweek training on some sweet point-to-point trails at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center
I owe a HUGE thank you to the Craftsbury Green Team for hosting Pat and I last week and also to Caitlin for making me some amazing pretzels!

The Green Team does it right

Also...Happy belated High Pony Day from UVM!