Welcome to my blog! This is a site where you can keep up to date on my life as a full-time athlete in the sport of cross country skiing. You can expect regular updates throughout the year as I report on training, racing, life in general and maybe even some school. Sponsors, family, friends and fans: Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ciao for now, Italy!

The World University Games came to an end this past week. Unfortunately, I only got to race the sprint qualifier of the 6 race schedule as illness derailed my Games. But it was still a great cultural experience getting to spend two weeks in Italy. I am now in Sweden for a week before heading back to Canada on New Year's Eve. There is no snow where we are staying in Arvika, and we will soon be heading up to Torsby to ski in the ski tunnel for a few days. Check back soon for an update on things in Sweden.

Here are a few last pics from the World University Games:

Very trusting Italians leave bikes and bags unlocked and unattended in the streets of Ziano. 

Kajsa racing in the women's 15 km classic mass start on Friday. 

Watching two live ski races at the same time on Saturday, as I was still recovering at the hotel from illness. The World Cup in Asiago, Italy, was on at the same time as the men's 30 km classic in Val di Fiemme. 

Finally getting to experience Canazei in all its glory, further up the valley from Val di Fiemme. This is where the men's hockey final (Canada won) and closing ceremonies were held. 

Mad trading was going down at the arena. Here's Harry Seaton and I sealing the deal on hard-to-get Chinese backpacks. Nobody has any business making backpacks this nice. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Illness and skipping the 10 km skate

Sorry that it has been 3 days since my last post - I wasn't able to get on the internet at all yesterday. 

Unfortunately I had to skip the 10 km skate race on Tuesday. The few days before I had a sore throat and a bit of the sniffles. My resting heart rate was 75-85 bpm the days leading up to the race instead of my usual of around 50 bpm or just under. Usually it is not advisable to race when you are not healthy, but I have raced once before while having a weird sore throat and had a great race. This was at Canada Winter Games in 2011 in the 10 km skate. I was hoping I could repeat that performance on Tuesday despite not feeling 100% healthy. So I tried a usual warm-up. My zone 1 heart rate was really high while skiing to the race site on the Marcialonga trail. After struggling to ski at a zone 3 pace for 5 minutes in my warm-up, I knew that racing would do more damage than good. Racing while ill can jeopardize the rest of a season. So I turned around and headed home and watched the race on TV. That night the cold symptoms hit me full on and I have been pretty congested since.

I am hoping to suddenly feel better for tomorrow so that I can assess for Saturday's 30 km. At the moment I am pretty disappointed to come all the way over here to Italy to race for less than 4 minutes in a frustrating sprint preliminary round. Luckily, I was talking to a Swedish wax tech yesterday who mentioned that there is a race close to where I will be staying in Sweden during the holidays. My aim is to recover from the illness to get a good race under my belt before heading to Canmore for the NorAms in the new year. 

In the region where we are staying, a lot of food is grown closer to home, as shown in this garden plot in someone's yard. Even in the middle of downtown areas, there are garden plots squeezed into people's small yards. In general, while staying here in Italy I have been amazed at the different way of life compared to North Americans. In the area where we have been staying, people work for a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the late afternoon, and that's it. Kids attend school for half days every day. It seems to be a leisure-based economy that is very family-time oriented (read my last post about Italians hitting the slopes midday, leaving towns eerily quite midday. Those who don't ski head home for an extended family lunch and rest). 

The quality of food here is also far, far better than in North Bay (probably better than the West Coast of Canada too). A lot of food is grown locally and naturally. Here is someone's backyard pen full of white front geese, ducks and chickens. 

Locally sourced energy: the primary source of heating in Val di Fiemme is from wood. Each building has a well-stocked firewood shed. 

Getting out for some fresh air with Harry Seaton, with the Tour de Ski's Alpe Cermis in the background. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Exploring the Dolomites (photo journal edition)

On our recent off-day a group of us skiers caught a gondola up to the top of a ski resort in Predazzo. We were treated to stunning views of the Dolomites. We also found where all the Italians go in the middle of the day. The other day we were shopping in a nearby town and noticed that most stores are open from 10-noon and then 4:00-6:00 pm. In between those times, towns are deserted. When we were up at the top of the mountain, we found all of the locals skiing or else sunbathing and enjoying a pizza and beer on one of many ski hut balconies. It made for interesting discussions over lunch as we compared the Italian way of life with the 9-5 North American workday. Around here, things are at a different pace. But everyone is in shape and seems to spend their afternoons out skiing. Taking an extended lunch would make especially good sense in a town like Yellowknife where you normally go to work in the dark and leave in the dark. A long lunch would make the most of the short winter daylight.

This Italian chose the even harder lunch-time option of skiing up the entire mountain. (Personally, I would love to get more into ski mountaineering)

All of the Italians may also be up here just to escape the shade of the deep valleys. Our race venue sees about 1 hour of sun per day on a 200 meter section. 

Skiing home on the Marcialonga course after ski testing this evening. Tomorrow is the 10 km individual start skate, an event that I have come to love over the last few years. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Classic Sprint

Today's post is short since there isn't a huge amount to talk about. Today I raced the 1.5 km classic sprint and wasn't very proud of my performance. I wasn't able to kick well on the climbs and lost a lot of time there. It had something to do with the skis I picked or the amount of kick that was on them. I ended up getting caught by the person who started 15 seconds behind me. I was looking forward to drafting off him into the finish, but unfortunately my skis were also slow and I didn't make up any time sitting on the Swede's draft. On a positive note, my body held up better than I thought it would after re-tweaking my back two weeks ago in training in North Bay. In the end, I was way off of qualifying in the top-30 for the heats. I don't want to read too much into this performance, but will take what I can from it and move on. I am really looking forward to the 10 km skate race on Tuesday.

The church across the street from our hotel in the quaint little town of Ziano.

Some of the men's sprint action today at Val di Fiemme.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Opening Ceremonies

 My mornings have been filled with essay writing for my last class that I am attempting to complete while on the road. As I sit in the bar of our race hotel at 11:00 am, wine-sipping Italians (at 11:00 am!!) chatter jovially as the morning sun breaks over the mountains and shines in through the windows. Things are more laidback around here. Also, I feel like such a bum for not understanding any Italian: I was hoping to at least pick up a bare minimum of basic sayings before coming over here, but was ultimately held up by school-work in the weeks leading up to my departure. Maybe after tomorrow’s final exam I will be able to immerse myself a little more?

Last night was the opening ceremonies. One of my teammates put it nicely: “This is my Olympics. I am fine settling for this.” For me, I have gradually made the step up from Games to Games, starting with 4 Arctic Winter Games in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006. Each of those Games felt like the Olympics to me, with grand opening ceremonies and various countries in attendance. After I became too old to attend AWG as an athlete, I moved on to attend two Canada Winter Games in 2007 and 2011. These Games were on a similar scale, maybe slightly bigger. This year I have made the next jump up to the World University Games, the second biggest Games in the world after the Olympics. Although my training this year has not been great and I have a few old injuries that have no end in sight, the possibility of attending an Olympics is still in the back of my mind. In light of the various Games that are out there, my opinion about high-level sport has developed over the years. From a young age, attending Arctic Winter Games at age 11, I always knew it had the ability to bring peoples and cultures together. Nelson Mandela put it nicely: “Sport has the power to change the world”. So far in Italy, this idea seems very clear to me. Last night was great, chatting and getting pictures with athletes from other countries and handing out Canadian flags to Italian kids in the grandstands. Maybe the small gift of a Canadian flag could leave a lasting impression on a youngster.
The three newly arrived Nipissing University athletes representing the small school overseas. (l to r: Jordan Cascagnette, Kajsa Heyes, me)

Some people say high level sport is a selfish endeavor for the wealthy. I would disagree. The ability for me to pursue ski racing at a high level for the last decade has been possible not because of individual wealth (in fact, I am usually extremely poor), but because of those who support me in my home community in the North. I am extremely grateful for the corporate sponsorships and sport grants that have allowed me to pursue my personal goals as well as my bigger goals of inspiring others to live a healthy, active lifestyle. Having my first taste of international competition last year at my first World Cup race gave me my first sense of the relationships built through sport. Imagine for a moment: here you have today’s athletic stars who are tomorrow’s leaders, forging international relationships across the world. At FISU, you have tomorrow’s great academics as well as future leaders forging slightly different international relationships. On top of this, you have Canadian athletes working as ambassadors to the host countries, putting their best foot forward to develop international kinship.

These are simply musings of my espresso-charged morning writing session, but worthy of thought. These musings and ideas seem at least worthy of a lifelong pursuit of sport, both to attempt to achieve my athletic potential while I am young but also to remain involved in sport with any future career I may choose.
Christian Zorzi and Giorgio Di Centa helped carry the FISU torch into the town square. Their image was projected on this cathedral wall. One of my favourite Olympic moments is still Giorgio receiving the 50 km gold medal at the 2006 Torino Games closing ceremonies, presented to him by his sister.

Today I got a chance to ski out on the Marcialonga trail that passes through the Val di Fiemme race trails. 

A stacked men's field heads out on the last lap of the 15 km skiathlon. (I skipped today's race to focus on Saturday's sprint race)

Enjoying a post-ski hot chocolate at the hotel bar.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Arrival in Italy

The Val di Fiemme race venue looks different in person than it does on Eurosport TV coverage. The hills on the sprint course are steeper and the valley the trails are in is deeper and is between larger mountains than I had envisioned after my repeated viewings of last year’s World Championships race coverage.

Today’s ski was my first ski of the year on real trails and on hills. The first real ski of the year is special for any skier, and doing it in Italy made it extra special. The Italian Dolomite backdrop, the hot sun and the occasional pastoral whiff from the surrounding fields and farmhouses was a great Euro primer for the coming week of racing. As the sun set behind the mountains, I stood at the finish line reminiscing of my buddy Lenny’s commanding silver medal performance in the 15 km classic mass start at last year’s Tour de Ski.
Near the finish line at the famous Lago di Tesero stadium. Site of 3 World Championships and numerous World Cup and Tour de Ski races.

Everything here is going great. Mainly, I am extremely stoked to get out of the 48-hour travel limbo that got me here. My flight from Toronto to Munich on Saturday night was delayed several times before finally getting cancelled on Saturday night. After a short sleep at a Toronto hotel, I was back in the Air Canada line up for several hours with 150 lbs of luggage, weaving my fatty burrito of a ski bag through baggage lines and instilling travel stench in my Team Canada gear.
Flying over the Alps.

Coach Toivo and I enjoying a delicious buttered croissant with meat and cheese at breakfast in the Munich airport.

At the first of many 4-course meals cooked for us at the hotel.

The final leg of the journey was accreditation and a bus ride. I spent the bus ride sitting next to the Chinese men’s ski team. They were nice enough and we got along great despite the very apparent language barrier. They were constantly pointing at the shorts I was wearing and laughing hysterically. I guess that is my northern blood showing through. At the end of the bus ride my ulterior goal of getting a foot in the door on a deal for a Team China faux black leather backpack was accomplished.

Last night I managed to sleep fine. No jet lag for this kid. That’s what 48 exhausting hours of travel with minimal sleep will get you: a sweet 12 hour sleep and instant adjustment to a 6 hour time difference.

Breakfast this morning was great. I was a bit discombobulated from the eventful travel, but otherwise excited to drink fine Italian coffee and eat an assortment of pastries and breakfast meats and cheeses.

Tune in again in two days time for a pre-race preview for Saturday’s classic sprint (I am not racing Thursday’s skiathlon).

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Getting the ball rolling

Yesterday I left North Bay to begin the journey to Italy for my first overseas racing experience (if you don't count Greenland) at the World University Games that start on Wednesday. The last few weeks have been a whirlwind as I finished the semester of full-time study (4 courses) at Nipissing. Writing my exams early and handing in all of my assignments was right down to the wire on Friday and the fact that I am heading to the 2013 World Championships venue to represent Canada is just starting to dawn on me after being so focused on studies for a short time. The trip overseas and the anticipation of actually getting there will be accentuated by how long it is going to take us to travel there. Coach Toivo, Kajsa and I left North Bay yesterday afternoon on a short flight to Toronto. Our flight from Toronto to Munich last night was cancelled, and so here I am in a nondescript Toronto airport hotel wiling away the hours until our rescheduled flight (I should really be writing my last essay that is due in a week's time. Hopefully blogging will get those creative juices flowing?). Our 18 hour trip is now turning into a 48 hour odyssey. I guess it will be a good opportunity to get to know my coach, Toivo, a bit better since we have both been busy this fall (he is a prof at the uni) and have only worked together about 2 times per week at team training. 

Anyways, I should keep this post short since I have set myself the goal of blogging every 2 days about my trip to Europe. I need to pace myself if that is going to happen. I will be in Italy for 2 weeks, then Sweden for 1 week and then Canmore for 12 days. I have some making up to do for a lack of blogging this fall, so here it goes...

For a short clip of training this fall, check out this video of a classic roller ski time trial that was held at a regional Ontario training camp in early November (I am at :25 and 1:32 (#301)):