The calendar has now flipped to March and my lifespan odometer has ticked to read 27! If only I had an odometer in my body for the amount of kilometres skied ...
Collecting kilometres is a relatively easy game when your race is anywhere from 21 to 50km's. I don't consider myself a distance skier, but I've had a bit of luck here and there amongst the World Loppet circuit. I'll start with Planoiras in Lenzerheide on January 14th. A 21km Skate loppet, with challenging terrain under stunning panoramas. Naive to this loppet world, I thought the race would be relatively easy off the start and opted for an easier warmup. I learned this lesson the hard way. Depending on whether you saw me between kilometres 2-15 or 15-21, you could reckon I was having the most painful race of my life or coming back from the dead! Yikes, that was a tough race but a dose of reality. They don't mess around on this loppet circuit! I blew up historically thanks to an insane pace off the start (men and women starting together, what was I thinking?!), crawled (this is not an exaggeration) for the next 13 kilometres and somehow recovered enough energy to attack the last 6 kilometres of the race. Unfortunately, that was not enough for a podium finish.
I was happy to redeem myself a week later in the night sprint in Obertilliach with a win in the Dolomiten Sprint. The traditional Dolomitenlauf (January 21) in skating technique the same weekend was a gruelling combination of slow wax and wet snow. It took me over two hours to complete the 42km race with not a single minute provided 'free of charge'. I had to fight for every step, both up and down. I didn't win the race, nor place in the top-6. I did, however, win the battle with myself to get my butt to the finish line (,jeder ein Sieger über sich selbst' is the tag line of the race, translating roughly to 'overcoming your personal battle makes you a champion'). The Austrians put on an amazing event complete with sausages, knödel, traditional Folklore costumes and Schlager music. The beauty of racing marathons in different areas, is their ability to combine the culture of the area with a pilgrimage of suffering athletes, young and old.
This loppet circuit thing is a blast. I mean, it's a lot of suffering, but it's such a mixed bag as to what can happen! The fact that men and women start as a mixed category makes for some entertainment on the longer races and takes me back to racing as a 10 year old, when categories were mixed. I happened upon my first loppet win at the Surselva Marathon in Sedrun, Switzerland. The panoramic views were nothing short of amazing and I was quite content sitting back in a group of men willing to do the majority of the work. It's a really interesting gender dynamic racing with men. Some are quite alright with you taking the lead, others would rather die than follow a woman. And I am quite alright with sitting in their draft ;) To my great delight, I was the fastest woman and won a set of Steinbock/Ibex horns. By far the coolest podium prize I've ever received. To some extent, I feel like I hunted down the animal myself.
Watching my friends, former teammates and idols throw down at the Olympics, write history, overcome disappointment, fight, persevere and shine was inspiring. I'll be honest though, it was also draining for me. A constant reminder of a dream I failed to achieve. I didn't want to wallow in my sorrows but I'll be honest, there were times when I did. It took courage for me to instead choose turn any sign of a pity party I might throw for myself into focusing my energy on racing.
At the beginning of February, I had planned to race two SwissCup races in Klosters (Classic Sprint and Classic Mass Start). The Swiss Cup weekend I had planned ended a lot earlier than expected, as I had a literal run-in with a service man standing on the classic track as I came around a downhill corner during my sprint prologue. This was a definite missed opportunity for an internet video sensation. If only someone had filmed it! I came around a downhill corner and my line of sight was blocked by a group of spectators. The service man was standing on the track and I had enough speed to take us both out. When I stood up, I shook my head but only wanted to make it into the finish. I was really upset and shook up. More emotional than rational. The fact that I have had concussions in the past makes me a very 'cautious crasher'. The race organisation and jury did a great job of taking care of me and making sure that any chance of a concussion was out of the question. A bummer of a way to end a weekend that I had spent preparing for! On the bright side, I wasn't injured, I don't have concussion symptoms or broken equipment and am really grateful that I could race the following weekend!
Of the eleven athletes on the SAS ProTeam, only four of us were in Zwiesel, Germany the following weekend for a set of three Continental Cup races. The hopes I had had to qualify for National Team wax support in Zwiesel were quickly dashed with my crash in the prologue. As a Swiss athlete without National team status, delivering a win in a Swiss Cup guarantees you wax service for upcoming Continental Cup racing. When you don't have that service, you get creative. I was extremely grateful that the Canadians were at the same COC race weekend and remembered who I am ;) It was a relief to have good wax service in Germany and I finished the classic sprint in 12th place, second Canadian and top Swiss athlete. The following two distance races were 10km classic and 10km skate were empty. I had no jive or energy and although the classic sprint was decent, the weekend left me empty!
This brings me to the past weekend of racing in Ulrichen (in the valley of Goms, Wallis) for the 42km Gommerlauf. My teammate, Rahel Imoberdorf (pictured centre above), was the local favourite and delivered an amazing performance. Over 42km, she finished 7 minutes ahead of me and definitely put some men in their place! I finished the day in 2nd, only 0.6 seconds ahead of third, Natalia Zernova of Russia. Another rookie lesson to this loppet circuit is that you fight to the line regardless! Throughout the race, people were cheering for me and giving me confirmation that I was in second place. I sat tight in the group of skiers that I was with and completely unaware that the third place woman was hot on my tracks. I just kept swimming and fighting. The loppet went up and down the Goms valley and with 500m to go, I had my eye on a racer in front of me as my last ditched effort to put my best race down. Thankfully this last sprint effort paid off as I crossed the line and realised that the boot beside me belonged to the third place woman. I was exhausted but grateful for a second place finish. That brings my racing kilometre tally to over 140km in the last month. And that's not even a lot compared to the women who race the loppet circuit full time! I took some time after last weekend and headed to Zermatt to absorb the kilometres and enjoy the magic of gravity for my birthday. My dad is here visiting and it was a very special birthday gift indeed.
I can't believe I'm about to write this, but I only have one month of my racing career left! Depending on the day, I feel nostalgic, terrified, excited, impatient and proud. Curious, antsy, sad, grateful - the descriptive adjectives of what lies ahead change on the daily. I will race the Engadine Marathon (March 11th) as well as Swiss Nationals and round up this life chapter with a couple odd ends of sprint racing in Switzerland and Austria. Stay tuned, things are about to get shaken up!
Thanks for reading. Stay curious.