Monday, October 27, 2014

Everything Is (Sore) Awesome!

Nothing like the first races of the season to remind you that ski racing is actually a pretty hard sport.  The heavy legs, flooded arms and burning feeling in my lungs were all too familiar as I crossed the line after the first "race" of the season, a classic sprint race on the Frozen Thunder loop of Canmore Canada.
Early morning light at the Canmore Nordic Center
After 25 days and somewhere between 35 and 40 workouts the SMS T2 team is wrapping up our fall camp out west. And literally everything is sore. Muscles I didn't even know I had are throbbing and pulling on other tight muscles that make things as simple as tying my shoe extremely uncomfortable.
Ida, Matt and Liz doing some work in the weight room. Strength + Skiing + Running + RollerSkiing = 1 Tired Skier

Annie trying to stretch out her sore groin muscles :)
For the final week of camp, the team travelled north to take advantage of some on-snow skiing in Canmore, Canada. Every October, the Canmore Nordic Centre rolls out a 1-2 km ribbon of snow, saved under wood chips from last winter, for our skiing enjoyment. We've spent the last week training and racing on Frozen Thunder, or as some have begun to call it...melting thunder. The rainy weather and warm temperatures are testing the limited snow supply.
A little rain can't stop us!
Despite the weather, we have had an awesome week with lots of quality on snow time as well as our first two race efforts of the season, a classic sprint and skate distance race. The Canmore Nordic Centre organized an unique format for the sprint day that allowed every racer to compete in all four sprint rounds. Based on qualifying times from fastest to slowest, each racer was placed in a quarterfinal heat of four people. The top two from each heat moved up to a faster heat and the bottom two moved down to a slower heat after each round. Men and women were mixed so everyone had the chance to race head to head with people of similar speed all the way through the finals.
The men's sprint final toeing the line
Although the somewhat confusing format didn't seem to follow exactly as planned, the event worked out surprisingly well. Everyone managed to race four quality sprint rounds and wide smiles on the faces of racers and coaches reflected the general mood of the day. Andy solidly won the men's division and Ida Sargent of the GRP/USST took the women's title.
Anne, Andy, Ben, Erika (me), and Caitlin Gregg post sprint (Matt Whitcomb photo)
Despite the physical shock to my system, I had arguably my best classic sprint ever. Usually classic sprinting feels like a more frantic version of a classic distance race. Although it's a little unclear exactly where I finished, I did move up from my qualifier and I was thrilled to feel like my flying limbs were actually propelling me down the track instead of simply spinning my wheels.
Happy SMS girls cheering on the boys and enjoying some sunshine
We followed up Friday's sprint with a skate distance race on Monday and another set of strong finishes all around! The men (plus Jessie and Liz because they are hardcore) skied 6 laps and the women raced 4 to finish up the last hard intensity session of camp. The mix of World Cup skiers and biathletes on the start list made for a fun and competitive field. I finished 7th and was psyched to be in the mix with some of the top skiers.

Me skating up out of the stadium (Matt Whitcomb photo)
The racing is what we prepare for and look forward to during all those summer days spent on the roller skis, in the gym, and on the the trails. Finally starting to put that work into racing is one of the best feelings in the world and Frozen Thunder gave us a little taste of what's to come this winter. And maybe, just maybe, my sore butt and tight hip flexors are starting to loosen as the feeling of racing seems like less of a shock and more like an old friend returning to say hello. 'Til the snow flies!
Getting ready to go hit the snow

Running to strength with Annie P., Paddy Caldwell and Ben 
Annie and Ben checking out the views
Beautiful spot to spend our last week of camp
Early morning light



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Canadian Thanksgiving


A few years ago the SMS T2 team started celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving during our annual Park City training camp. The traditional "American" Thanksgiving falls during the early weeks of the racing season when our team is typically spread from Finland to Montana. We figured why not celebrate the holiday a few weeks early, honor our "token Canadian" Jessie Diggins, and celebrate everything we are thankful for while simultaneously enjoying almost ( yes almost) unhealthy amounts of turkey, stuffing and pie. So, in honor of our October celebration here a few things and teammates I have been thankful for during our first week in Park City.

The West

I like the East. I have even grown to love parts of it over the last few years. But something about the West, the endless views, open skies, and peaks that mark the horizon are like a boost of natural energy. In the West I am invincible. The air might be thinner but I can breathe easier. The space makes room for thoughts to wander and the open space offers a clarity that lets me see where I've been, where I am, and where I am going.

Annie's attitude

She's like a real life SuperWoman
I mean that both in a positive inspirational uplifting sort of way and also in the "she's got some 'tude" sort of way. Annie has a smart confidence about her with a dash of sass that makes you want to be her best friend in the hope that some of her dance moves and deep philosophical thoughts will someday rub off on you. She's also your go-to when you need something done. Anything. And you can be sure it will be done well.
Even intervals can't squash her sass spirit
Lightning bolts in my coffee

It like an extra jolt of caffeine but better cause its made of cinnamon and sugar.

Sunset Views

Thanks to the generosity of my Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Greg, the SMS T2 team is staying at their beautiful home in Park City for the duration of our training camp and the views are absolutely unreal. Thank you so much for welcoming us into your home!

Goob's guts
She's a tough cookie...and also, conveniently, makes really good cookies
Anne Hart, also fondly known as "Goob," knows when to follow her gut and I admire that about her. She's a gutsy racer and isn't afraid to go hammer at sub 5 minute mile pace even if she risks blowing up later in the race. That said she also knows when to trust her gut and a deep finger laceration means its time to head to the emergency room rather than tough it out. She also knows what is tasty for the gut...donuts anyone?

Changing leaves
Yellow leaves on some aspen tree

Jessie's Abs
That girl is strong. Yes I am thankful for her seemingly endless positive energy and cute sparkle chipmunk style but everyone already knows Jessie is the most bubbly, hardworking, bundle of joy out there. What you may not know is that she is also my inspiration in the gym and can out lift most anyone.
Jessie and I trying to capture the sun
New pavement

Nothing like a freshly paved road to really fire up a Nordic skier

Sophie's Smile
Sophie with her spongebob elbow protector and Annie with a "sympathy spongebob" for solidarity
Can't be beat...even by a broken elbow. After her second broken elbow in six months she still manages to keep a smile on her face and everyone around her. She knows how to brush things off and not sweat the small stuff.
Still smiling
New Frandzzzz
Annie P and Mary Rose enjoying a Thanksgiving sunset
Mary Rose of the Sun Valley team joined us for the first half of Park City camp and although we tried to adopt her, she faithfully returned to her Sun Valley teammates. We had fun though and hope to steal her back on occasion.

I am realizing this list could easily turn into a novel so family, coaches and boys might have to wait until Thanksgiving round 2 but thanks to all the athletes and coaches for making Park City camp week one a success! We have 5 more days here before heading to Frozen Thunder in Canada for some on-snow pre-season skiing. Thanks for checking in :)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Travel Do's and Don'ts

Fall colors on Stratton Mountain

Changing leaves

Getting ready for winter
In the world of cross-country skiing, fall training is kind of like pre-season for football. The races that really matter are still a few weeks away but the intensity starts to ramp up, the time-trails hint at the competitions to come, and the long, slow days of summer turn into the busy days of fall filled with last-minute preparations before the season gets into full swing.
Early morning fog and some hard level 4 bounding with Jessie and Annie H. up Stratton last week. Nothing like finishing on your hands and knees to know you and a solid training sesh.

The focus in the gym has been on power so lots of explosive lifting
My last full week in Stratton began at the Compass School in Westminster, VT where Jessie and I hosted a 2.5 hour workshop on mindfulness, mental preparation and visualization. From there the days only got busier. Between two photo shoots, packing and moving out of our summer accommodations, a T2 clinic for over 70 junior skiers in Hanover, NH, 20+ hours of training, and a plethora of other fall activities I not only failed to write a blog but I was also thrilled to jump on a plane and just sleep for a few hours.
Andy and I helped lead the older group of juniors in some ski-bounding drills
Annie H and I had fun helping Annie P with a shoot for Bolder Bands, a cool headband company

The colors were perfect for some sweet fall shots!

Andy and I also did a shoot for Swix base layer clothing. This was the first time I have ever done any sort of photo shoot so I was learning (and also sweating) a lot!
Fall also means pumpkin season

We made sure to check out the Peru Fair last week too-an annual fall tradition!

Vermont fall colors 
Fall also means the beginning of the travel season and on Saturday I flew to Salt Lake City for the beginning of a three-week altitude training block that begins with dry land training in Park City and ends with snow skiing in Canmore, Canada. I both love and hate traveling. I love "being" in different places with new people, landscapes, customs, and cultures, but I really don't enjoy the process of getting there. Most of my travel days seem to involve some combination of early mornings, late nights, delays, missed flights, empty gas tanks, lost bags, sweaty tee-shirts, and an unhealthy amount of caffeine, sugar, and airplane peanuts. That said, I have picked up a few things that make hours on a plane/train/in a car somewhat easier and through my fair share of trial and error, learned what NOT to do as well. A few of my travel tips:

DO make friends
Nothing makes travel easier than recruiting a friendly seat-mate, teammate, the occasion firefighter or EMT to help with transporting overpacked duffels and oversized ski bags.
The #Annies still smiling after a long travel day.

DO bring snacks and water
In case your shining smile doesn't convince the stewardess to bring you extra water and pretzels, its always a good idea to have some emergency rations and an enormous bottle of water. Dry air on planes combined with lots of marginally healthy people is a good recipe for passing a cold so staying hydrated in a must and no one like a "hangry" travel.
It's apple picking season in Vermont and apples also happen to be one of my favorite travel snacks! We made sure to load up before heading out West.

Two of my favorite things!

Just taking a lil break...Apple picking can be tiring

Jessie brought along the wagon to carry our haul (and us when we got tired)

Noms

DON'T buy the $7.00 bottle of Fiji water
Bringing your own bottle to refill is both environmentally friendly and free!

DO bring something to do
Magazines, books, music, headphones, coloring books...whatever floats your boat but this is crucial for staying sane during a long travel day.
Annie knows how to travel right and look good doing it

DO Uber
If you ever need to get around in a city, Uber is your new best friend. A faster, easier, less expensive and more reliable taxi service. You can even customize your driver and car.

DON'T overpack
Trying to travel with two bags over 50 pounds plus a backpack and purse seems excessive especially when maneuvering them up 4 flights of stairs in a tiny Boston apartment building. This is where making friends becomes quite useful and also where I need to better listen to my own advice.
All that strength training being put to good use as Annie H and I attempted to transport our bags across the city of Boston

DO be flexible
Even if everything doesn't go as planned, being flexible makes the stresses easier to manage.
Jessie Diggins getting loose

DON'T forget to say thank you
According to my teammate Annie it takes at least 6 words for a person to register an interaction as genuine. Travel days can be hard, but thanking the people who make them happen reminds me how lucky I am to be traveling in the first place and can turn a bad travel day into a better one. So thank you to everyone who donated to the Ski-A-Thon and helped me get to Park City this week! If you still want to donate, the deadline is October 15th!


To Donate:


Donate online here remember to mark that your donation is for Erika Flowers in the checkout process. 

or

make out a check to THE ELITE NORDIC FUND/ERIKA FLOWERS
and send it to
Stratton Mountain School
c/o Patrick O'Brien
7 World Cup Circle
                                                             Stratton Mountain, VT 05155


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Your Body on 100km

100 km, 62.14 miles, 6 hours and 15 min, 3,000+ calories...no matter which way you cut it the Annual SMS T2 Ski-A-Thon is a big day and challenges your body, mind, and at times, your relationship with your teammates and coach. A short look into 100 km of skiing as told by my muscles:
9:15 AM and 100km to go!
Mouth at kilometer 0: Everything is awesome! I am about to spend the next 6 hours chatting and bonding and roller-skiing with my teammates and best friends and nothing can wipe this grin off my face.
And we're off!
Butt around 20 km:  Peeing on a rosebush was maybe not the best bathroom choice but the wounds seem minimal
Sophie feeling hoppy!
These kilometers are FLYING by...nothing like taking up the rear and enjoying the draft for a while :)
Coach Sverre offering directions and encouragement
Arms around kilometer 30: Wow we have been double poling for a long time now. I think I can actually feel my arms getting bigger. My lats are going to be so strong after this.
Getting stronger and loving this ski...I could roller-ski all day!
Eyes around kilometer 35:  Look at this beautiful scenery!
Lovin' the views
Eyes around kilometer 45: Don't lose sight of those white boots in front of you. Keep moving forward. Watch out for the gravel and that dead skunk. Oh no, the boots are pulling away...they are getting a gap... pick it up quick, don't lose the draft! Where are we skiing again..Vermont? New York? Are the boys behind us now? I don't see the vans, where did they go?
Sophie taking a pull at the front and leading a training train to take down a few k's.
 Stomach at kilometer 52: Snack time! Over halfway done and finally on to the skate portion of the ski. Does peanut butter and jelly always taste this good?


Legs at 53 km: Woofta...skate skiing, so stiff, so sore, so tired, I still have 47km to go and my hamstrings are already tired and sore.
Can we go back to classic skiing?
Stomach at 60km: I need another snack..apple cake? Too sweet. Rice and bacon bar? Too salty. Caffeinated PowerBar CocaCola gummy chews? Just right!
Annie Pokorny getting a feed from her mom, Val. Thanks for coming out to cheer and support our ski!
Brain at 70 km: Feeling good! Wow I should drink more coffee in the morning, caffeine does wonders.
Takin' a turn at the front of the train
Eyes at 73 km: That looks like a sketchy downhill. Coach?
Sverre giving us an extra "brake" on a steep downhill into an intersection. Keeping us safe and smiling- thanks Sverre!

Brain around 75km: There have got to be less painful ways to raise money...think think think. I think my brain is getting tired.

Feet around 80km: Get me out of these boots! Why am I still in here? I'm getting hot and sweaty,  I have been in the same position for 5 hours and my pinkie toe is asleep.
Sophie: I hate this but I am gonna try my best to pretend I love it
Annie: If I close my eyes maybe the end will come sooner, you know, like going to sleep before Christmas morning 
 Mouth at 85 km: I have nothing nice to say so I'm not going to say anything at all.
No words...only a deafening silence briefly broken by Jessie's valiant but failed attempt to brighten the mood and strike up a conversation about ultra marathon races. Let's just say no one seemed that enthused by the idea. 

On the up and up with the help of Coach Pat and Annie P.'s dad Al on bikes
Butt at 90 km: Ouch...if I'm tired it means I'm doing something right though...right? Ouch

Legs at 92 km: So close and yet so far away. Imagine I am Jens Voigt and "Shut Up" legs!
If I smile enough I can trick my body into thinking I am still enjoying this.
Brain at 95 km: I think I can I think I can I think I can!

Full Body at 100 km: Everything is awesome! I love my team, I love skiing, I love endorphins, I love pain, I love all the Ski-A-Thon Supporters! We did it!

Actually though, while that was a bit of an overdramatic account of the day, I truly am grateful for everyone who supported the 3rd Annual Ski-A-Thon both on the day of the ski and throughout the year. Thank you to the coaches, Jason Cork, Patrick O'Brien and Sverre Caldwell who drove the vans and supported our ski both on foot and on bike for the entire 8+ hour excursion.
Patrick making sure we had an awesome route and no one got lost!
Thank you to Simi's mom, aunt and uncles and Annie P.'s mom, dad and boyfriend, Will, who cheered us on, gave us snacks, offered conversation and encouragement and documented the day with these sweet photos (I think Will has a future in photography). I can't imagine anything more boring than watching us roller-ski for 6+ hours but they did it with a smile and in style.
Thanks to the moms. You guys are the best.
Al logging some serious mileage on the bike
And the biggest thank you goes out to everyone who donated to the 3rd Annual SMS T2 Ski-A-Thon. Without you, the Ski-A-Thon wouldn't happen (so wait...why am I thanking you again? Just kidding!) and you are also the reason I get to spend every day pursuing something I love. Your donations fuel the dream. Your support allows me to attend training camps, travel to races, and get to the start line knowing I have done everything I can to race my best. This 100 km Ski-A-Thon is dedicated to you!
Thank You from SMS T2!