Go figure, after having everything go wrong last week on my travels to Norway I record some of my best distance racing results. As of Thursday last week my bags had still not arrived and we were due to start driving to Asarna, Sweden at 4 pm. Back to the ol' bad luck/good luck theme, the record setting cold temperatures in Europe put Saturday's race in jeopardy and it was decided that it made more sense to wait to drive until Friday. Waiting one day allowed my ski bag to arrive in Trondheim (200km south of Steinkjer), where the wax tech for Team Trondelag lives and he picked up my skis and they were waiting for me in Sweden (my clothing bag didn't arrive until Sunday). I was able burrow a pair of Salomon pursuit boots from Frode for Saturday's skate race and I had my classic boots in my ski bag so I was set for Sunday's competition.
Fortunately for me the cold weather shortened the 30km skate to a 20km....although it took me 12 km to really get going on Saturday and I had a very strong final 8km. I caught on to a Fin who was on his first lap of 10km while I had just lapped through and once I had his tempo I couldn't believe how good I felt. I was caught for 30 seconds by the guy two bibs behind me around the 14 km mark but he appeared content to just sit in the train that was now 5 guys (two more on their first lap came through). At the 15 km mark two of the 5 guys decided to break away and if I had had more confidence in my racing I would and should have gone with them. I told myself to stay with that Fin because I might not feel good in the race for long. However, with just under 2 km to go I realized that I needed to make my own break and I got away and managed to get 16 seconds back from the Norwegian who had caught me for 30 seconds. I finished 43rd overall (there were 120 on the start list), just under 4 minutes off the lead. The winner has had top 10 finishes on the World Cup so all things considered I was happy with the day. The final 8 km of the race I was able to challenge the course and myself and I remembered why I liked racing as I sat down that night exhausted. I finally pushed myself!
Sunday was the 15km classic. Due to the cold weather we were on a modified course and we completed the same 10km lap from the first day and then the final 5km on our second lap. The first 5 km was very flat and all double pole. I went out a bit conservative because I wasn't sure where my energy level was going to be after the 20km the day before. That strategy cost me big time as I gave up 1 minute to the leaders in the first 3 km. However, after that point I skied a very strong strong only losing 1 min 57 sec over the next 12 km. This field had actual a World Cup 15 km winners (Anders Sodergren of Sweden) who was 4th or 5th. Despite the slow start it was the first race this year where I was able to race from the start to the finish. I had great skis that ran quick and held there grip when I was tired. In the end I was closer to the overall lead than the previous day. I scored 82 FIS pts on Saturday and 79 on Sunday.
I know I trained enough this year to race well. I know I am in good shape. After 48 hrs of travel and 5 days of no training and losing my luggage to have strong efforts here in Scandinavia has eased any doubts I had that I had gotten it all wrong. I am more convinced now that I was too cautious coming into the racing season. I should have raced more, recovered better and stressed less. Now that the Olympic trials are behind me I can get back to racing fast and enjoying the process.
I am in Norway for another week and will then travel to Germany to train with Thomas Freimuth and race with him in Lienz, Austria Jan 22 and 24th. I will sprint on the 22nd and do a 25 km skate on the 24th. I have to admit I am looking forward to the distance race as much as the sprint.
Below are pictures and a video from my trip so far. The first ones are of Frode's family farm in Steinkjer, and then of the race site in Asarna, Sweden and our cozy cabin where I stayed with Frode and the teams head wax tech. They moved the race up about 500m in elevation to get the warmer temps and in just one night created a stadium in front of the local church and created two huge parking lots. Very impressive. Also, you will find a video of my recovery training today with Frode.