Without a Rifle

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My expectations going into Saturday’s race could probably be summed up best in a single shoulder shrug.  Why?  Well… the longest race I’ve ever done was a 20k back in 2009 and I haven’t raced without my rifle in over two years…. What I did expect however was a weekend full of sunshine, spandex clad master blasters, and having a grin plastered across my face at all times.

Turns out, flying by the seat of pants works in my favor.

I was nervous to do my first “big kid” nordic race in what seems like an eternity.  If I know anything about my skiing it is that I generally struggle to stay relaxed in a pack and I loose all sorts of time on downhills and flats.  I’m clumsy, frequently a liability, and (more than) occasionally a bit spastic.  Going into a mass start, of all things, was terrifying.

The start of the women's field at the Boulder Mountain Tour.

The start of the women’s field at the Boulder Mountain Tour.

I’m the scared looking one on the far left hand side of the picture… obviously.

The women’s race was surprisingly calm and mostly just involved me being an amateur doing amateur things all over the place.  I spent most of the race wondering if we were going hard enough and then I would remind myself I had no idea what I was doing so I should just chill out instead.  I dropped my first feed (thanks BA for offering me your water bottle!) and sent most of my second feed back out my nose. Super attractive imagery.  I took myself out twice during the second half of the race but thanks to some wicked fast skis (huge shout out to Chris Hall and Fischer for waxing them up) I managed to never lose contact with the other girls for that long.  My shinning moment was probably pulling strong after the first Preem which broke the women’s pack of 6 or 7 women down to 4… that, and not taking anyone else down with me… besides that one old guy that got in my way… sorry?

Our little group of four never broke up going into the final 5km but our speed continued to ramp up as we got closer and closer to the finish.  Alexa and Brooke dominated the trail while Lauren and I apparently took turns falling over.

In a four way sprint for first I got shut out of a finishing lane and had to ski in the whiskers to move around Alexa and head for the line.  I ran out of ski race before I could get to Lauren’s shoulder and finished a mere 0.11 seconds out of first.  Someone proceeded to ski through my head as I lay on the ground which left me a little dazed but relatively unharmed (we think).

Women's Elite Finish.

Women’s Elite Finish.

Racing was incredibly fun and I definitely came away from the weekend exceeding my own expectations… and apparently everyone else’s!

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After soaking it up in the hot springs, mingling with our new British friends, collecting hugs, and filling ourselves with some exceptionally fast-exceptionally questionable Chinese food, Carl, Ben and I headed back towards Montana.  Home to Bozeman.  Although it was great to go to sleep in Idaho and wake up in Montana I also woke up to some bad news.

After a phone call from Europe and a Skype meeting later it turns out I will not be going to Europe to race at European/U26 Championships in Bulgaria like I had hoped.  It was, and still is, a huge disappointment… but I’m trying to turn my focus to the future and what races I do get to do instead.

After much groveling and shameful pleading I will be going home to race the Birkie!  As a Hayward kid who was never old enough to do the whole thing I’m getting pretty excited and looking forward to skiing with a bunch of familiar faces.  Birkie fever anyone?

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*Clarifying

I’m currently tucked away in a car on my way to Idaho.  For guess what?  A nordic race.  Confused?  You and me both.

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What happened exactly?  It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot recently, and one I hope to answer for all of you now.

After trials back in December I was left with the devastating decision of “What am I going to do now!?”  Biathlon has an unforgiving race season of two strikes and you’re out.  Out of Europe… and into…what?

With my team, coaching staff, and seemingly, the entire race circuit over in Europe I was emotionally overwhelmed with nothing to fall back on.

After spending much of last winter sick and on a steady stream of medication it has been frustrating to be faced with what seems to be such a dead end of a race season knowing I’m physically capable of so much more.  Hungry to be better.  *Enter – further banging my head against a wall. 

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As January approached it was suggested I head to Northern Maine to finish the race season out under the watchful eye of Maine Winter Sports Center.  (Yes I’m 22 and need constant supervision) Instead of feeling like an opportunity I felt like an elderly women being pushed out on an ice-flow to die in solitude. Burnout was on the horizon, and more than that, something I was not ready for.  Not yet.

I’ve been called uncommitted.  Disobedient.  Unfocused.  I prefer professionally rouge. Or perhaps charmingly unconventional.  This isn’t me quitting.  This is me fighting.  Fighting for my place in this sport, for the longevity of my athletic career, and for my own wellbeing.

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Instead of going East. I packed up my belongings and headed West… and then further West.  I’ve found a little nitch in Bozeman.  A happy place, in an awesome home, surrounded by some of the most incredible people, and it feels good.

I’ve got some of the best mountains as a playground. I’ve got snow and blue bird “Big Sky Country” days.   And yes, I even have my rifle… and 4000 rounds of ammunition…

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I’d be lying if I told you I know what I’m doing or what the future holds, and I’m steadily growing ok with that.  For now the sun is setting on Idaho and I’m well on my way to couch surfing through the Boulder Mountain Tour this weekend (Thanks Kev)!   On Saturday I’ll be doing my first nordic race in over two years and on Sunday I’ll find out if I get to go to Bulgaria, for European Championships, at the end of the month.  Big things ahead?  I sure think so.

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Until then I’ll be accepting deposits of crossed fingers and good vibes.