I really wanted to title this post "U-23 World Championship Trials - At least I felt like a winner." Buuut, I've sorta been a fan of the bland post titles of late.
Leading up to the U-23 World Champs trials January 6-9th in Thunder Bay, ON, I had great preparation at my home training base of Whistler, BC. I was fortunate to have my family come down to visit me as opposed to me gallivanting about the country and risking training in -40C for 2 weeks leading up to the most important race of the season. The holiday season was relaxing, with some great weather (aside from the stormy/rainy Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) and some long-awaited fam time. With a few good races to date under my belt, and still feeling I was getting better day to day, my body and mind were in a good place leading up to the classic sprint event in T-Bay.
Our late night arrival in Thunder Bay signalled some peculiar emotions. It felt as if I was coming home, but somehow the emotion was distant and dreamlike seeing as how I had only lived in T-Bay for a single year, my first year out of high school when I was a member of the NTDC. Regardless of feeling pretty weird being back in ghetto Thunder Bay, deep down there was a sense of familiarity and of intrinsic good in my return.
The first few days of training in -20C were a bit of a shock to the system, but I soon regained my stride and readjusted to my natural furnace-like body temperature that is a necessity when living in and coming from a northern community (Yellowknife). The temperature paired with arctic-esque winds were soon a comforting caress.
In the days leading up to the classic sprint I had okay sensations despite not having my ski bag for a few days and from having possibly the worst accommodations one could possibly get in T-Bay at the Sea-Vue Motel (one review described it as, "I would rather sleep in my car.").
Day of, everything went according to plan. (These next 2 paragraphs are from my race report I sent to my friend and mentor Jan Larsson, husband of 4-time Olympian from Inuvik, Shirley Firth. He asked me for a race report and to outline 2 positives from the trip. What a great dude.) After a so-so qualifying round at sunrise, I was in the mix of skiers vying for the U-23 Championship position. In my qualifier, I faded quite severely towards the end of the 1.6km race, at the top of the huge climb at 1.0km. In light of this, I rested up during the break between qualifier and heats, hoping that I would feel better in the afternoon when the head to head races would take place. Luckily, I was feeling much better come afternoon. I had a good warm-up and was feeling calm and focused at the start line. Off the gun I settled into the pack, trying to conserve energy for the 2nd half of the race where I knew any breaks for the finish line would come. I stuck on Stef's (2nd place qualifier and Cdn Olympian) tails the whole race, sitting in 5th place of 6 skiers. Stef made his move towards the top of the massive climb on the 2nd half of the course and I was able to match it, coming into the stadium in 2nd place. However, due to a racer who pulled up next to me on the corner coming into the stadium, I was boxed in with nowhere to go and was edged back into 3rd place with only the top-2 racers moving on. Although I didn't achieve my goal of qualifying for the A-final, where the top U-23 skiers would be racing, I did have excellent sensations that afternoon and was racing at a level where I would be competitive within the top-12 skiers. Sometimes in sprint racing, getting boxed in like this is the luck of the draw. I only hope to have more opportunities to race in a situation when my body is responding so well and the speed comes easily.
The sprint course was downhill the first half and uphill the 2nd half. Here we are halfway up the huge climb (which skied very nicely). I am in 5th, following the man in white, Stefan Kuhn.
The day after my target race, I re-grouped and had my best 15km skate race of my life in a discipline that I normally struggle in. I had 2 strong skiers who started near me in the interval-start race and so was able to work together with them taking turns resting and leading. This allowed the race to go by much more enjoyably as the cohesive effort enabled us to pass through many skiers who had started ahead of us in the race, without the sheer physical demand of carrying out an effort of similar scale solo. The performance was good enough for 22nd best in Canada in Senior men, which isn't a top-result by any means, but is my best distance race thus far in my career. Even though my 13th place in the sprint race fell well short of my target top-6, I took comfort in knowing I had achieved a new personal best in distance racing.
Even when things don't go quite according to plan and you fall short of achieving your primary goal for the year, you must learn to take the good from the shortcomings. What went well? What felt good?
Anyone who falls short of a main goal will feel disappointment. It's a natural emotion, and luckily, it's also a rational one. It also accompanies a simple reality of life: not all goals are met. Me as a younger, less experienced skier, may not have realized this. With the end of the season's main races that will qualify you for bigger/better things (racing in Europe), many racers who didn't make the cut at trials in T-Bay may find it easy to lose focus. With one's summer training not coming to fruition as hoped with a berth to World Juniors, World U-23s, World Seniors, World Cup or what have you, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture and of the fact that the season is only half over! I admit that I have fallen victim to this in the past in a couple of instances.
I recently met (at an impromptu twoonie biathlon event in Whistler) and spoke at length with great Canadian sportsman and Olympic Champion, Adam van Koeverden, about this. He was very interested in my season's racing and was quick to point out my fault when I mentioned that my season still has a big races at Nationals but that they didn't mean much since they aren't qualification races for any particular bigger event. "EVERY SINGLE RACE MATTERS." His advice now seems pivotal to this year's season since I am a last year U-23. He told me of an experience from when he was 17 years old and missed qualification for the 2000 Olympics in Australia for kayak. Despite this disappointing shortcoming, he kept at his training and was beating the returning Olympians in national races during the 2nd half of the summer.
The down-to-earth van Koeverden had lit this fire within me as we stood chatting in the sopping wet biathlon stadium, slamming back Dup's Burritos. Although I have missed a primary year-objective, the season is only half over and all of my competitors who are over on their 2-week trip in Europe will soon be back at the rest of the Canadian races this year. I am still improving and will soon have my chance to "mess with their heads" just like a 17-year-old van Koeverden did as he wupped the older Olympic athletes' butts in latter season racing.
Thanks for checking in,