Pen to Paper

Classic Sprint U23 Championships - Liberec CZE Cred: Lisa Patterson
My school day doesn't begin at 8:30am with the sounding of a school bell, but I am a student none the less. I am back in the Bow Valley and reflecting on my most recent trip to Europe for the U23 Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic. There were big improvements here and painful questions left there which means I have to put pen to paper - or fingers to keyboard - and figure out where to go from here.
Russell is set to go. Nice Salomon collection!
Globe and Mail, The Simply Bar and FnF travel mug. Makes my travel that much easier. 
We arrived in Austria for a training week before the Championships from January 12-17th and couldn't have asked for better skiing and scenery to help adjust to the European way again. Add in some delicious food, cappuccino's and das schlitten and you've got a great week of preparation.

Thumbs up from Austria

Ew, gross. But had to share. After freezing my finger tips in TBay the skin died and hardened to the point where I couldn't type on my iPhone anymore! The thick, dead skin finally peeled off and I felt like a new snake.
The ladies post intensity in Ramsau stadium. Great venue and great group!
The team loaded up the Euro diesel vans and headed north to the Czech Republic. Estimated travel time was 6.5 hours. 13 hours later we arrived in Liberec. Snowy, narrow roads and a lack of snow plows made this an epic day - good though! Always grateful for wicked team mates and good tunes to get us through this day.

Great lunch at the Freistadter BrauHaus
Every nation at the Championships were staying at Hotel Babylon which is different than most years when teams are spread out across the city and rarely interact. The Babylon is comparable to all of Vegas crammed into a kitschy eastern block hotel. Complete with water park, bowling alley, science centre, casino, snake display and turtles - the Babylon was stacked with surprises and it took me the whole first week to get my bearings in the massive setup.

The courtyard in the centre of the hotel. Just a glimpse into the oddity of the whole place.
Nom nom nom. Annika in one of the displays at the 'IQ Park' at Hotel Babylon
Lots of time in elevators
Compared to the week previous when the World Cups were hosted in Liberec, there was a lot of snow! I was happy to arrive to the sound of snow guns blowing and a trace of new snow to get the distance courses open. We also explored some mountain trails about 30 minutes outside of Liberec where the locals and tourists flooded to. The trails were packed and endless! So endless in fact that Annika, Marlis and I got lost and had to make our way to the mountain rescue van to give us a ride back to the team van. We never fail to make a casual outing a little more interesting ... and complicated.

I had been counting down to the sprint day all season and now it had finally arrived. The plan was written out on paper and the body was set to rock - but there was a disconnect. I put my best effort on the line - in no way did I feel entitled to qualifying and knew would have to put up a fight no matter what the battle. Coming up short in a qualifier is such a hard pill to swallow. I started ranked 15th and finished in 34th position. I know I am capable of so much more than that so not being able to achieve a result that I had set my mind to today was frustrating. I think that being so frustrated and angry as my first reaction was healthy in that I didn't feel that I deserved this result. Sure, I hadn't given my strongest performance on the day but had I just been upset and depressed, it would've said to me that I didn't believe in my capabilities in the first place and just accepted the disappointment.
An afternoon outing for coffee. The cafe Praha didn't disappoint. Almond extract, chocolate and coffee - delish!
I did a lot of Q&A inside my head that afternoon. Where did I go wrong? What could I have done better? But gave myself a timeline to analyze it, learn from it and move on. The next day was a 10km skate individual. An event that I had really been looking forward to in Thunder Bay, but because of my head I was advised not to compete. I hadn't done a skate distance race since last season! I was really motivated and ready to put an aggressive pace out today. My goal today was to race for every second. I have been in that situation so many times, and especially in sprint racing, where a second here or there could move you up (or down) numerous positions. That meant that the slobber on my nose would have to wait for the finish line in order for me to wipe it off. Ain't nobody got time fo dat. My pacing paid off and I finished the day in 28th position.  Not the most substantial result in comparison to the rest of the world, but a huge accomplishment for me and miles of improvement over last year.
10km Skate individual Cred: Lisa Patterson
Pursuit day rolled around and we even had a glimpse of sunlight to start the day off! Alright, alright - this was going to be good. The mass starts on the international level are always fun for me and even though I have terrible points and am always seeded at the back, it makes it that much more fun to chase down the pack. The classic leg went well but I didn't have as much energy and snap going into the skate. I let my position dwindle and ended the day in 39th position but still happy that I put in a good fight and am skiing distance so much stronger than this time last year. I have to be happy with that.
Feasting at our go-to joint, Pizzerie Maskovka
So, how do you measure success? A number beside my name, time back from leader, FIS point standings. These are all ways of tracking performance, but success is all about improvement. Where am I in comparison to last year? In sprint racing, I faltered and didn't improve on my result from last year but am richer from the experience. It taught me the fine art of relaxing in classic sprinting goes a lot farther than counting on pure strength to muster out a fast result. My distance racing is a big step in the right direction. Progress and therefor success have been made there and it is so gratifying to see the improvement and actually feel fit on the course. Still, there are many hurdles to overcome in order to be competitive at the highest end, but I am moving in the right direction.
Delicieux! Best cappo I found in Liberec paired with an apple delicious-ness.
The last day of competition was all about the Juniors. This year, the team was so solid. It was super exciting to share in the adrenaline and pride surrounding this event. I can't wait until they finally let the U23'scompete in a relay as well! We packed up the site after cheering and made way for Prague. The city that I had heard many good things about didn't disappoint.
The brutes climb of the course. Good though! Raph anchoring
Colin, Andy, Frederique and Russell. Go Canada!
The Canadians packed up after the relay and set off for Prague. A beautiful city that definitely lived up to its reputation. When we arrived, the sun had set, the city was lit up and there was a magical snow fall that set the most magical European scene.

All smiles playing tourist in Prague

Top floor hotel room in downtown Prague. Room with a view aaand comfy bathrobes.
For the masquerade
What kind of lover are you? Just ask the chair.
Poppin' da bubblay. Happy Birthday!
Maya, myself and Frederique
Lazrrrr light show in Prague nightclub.
Now that I'm back in Canada, I'm getting back into the training and recovery after Europe. Staying healthy throughout the trip and after is a feat in itself! I am so grateful for my experience and at the end of the school day, I have some homework to get to but look forward to putting my lessons learned up against the next test.

May the best of your today's be the worst of your tomorrow's.

Czech Obama