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Author Archive

Race Day Routines

28.Nov.2014 by Susan Dunklee

This weekend marks the start of World Cup racing. On Sunday, we will put on the red, white and blue and represent the USA in the season’s first mixed relay in Östersund, Sweden. Over the winter, we race in about 30 competitions around 10 different countries, but our race day routines always looks the same. Here’s how I approach a race:

The Evening Before

We have a short team meeting to go over race day logistics and discuss strategy. Afterwards I write myself out a detailed schedule for the next day. Among other things, it includes when I plan to wake up in the morning, when I will eat meals, what time I must leave for the venue and when I should start warming up. Having a plan to follow simplifies race day preparations for me. It takes away extra stress, allowing me to focus on only one task at a time. It gives me confidence that I will fit in everything I need to do for the race.

Race Day

First thing in the morning, I go for short walk or jog outside to help the body wake up and to get a feel for the weather.

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Sunrise over the biathlon range in Sjusjøen, Norway

I eat a hearty breakfast (and lunch if the race happens to be in the late afternoon or evening).

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One of my staple breakfast combinations: Yogurt, museli, almonds, banana and blueberries.

An hour before I have to leave I pack a backpack with everything I’ll need, including some dry clothes and a snack for after the race. I warm up the nervous system for shooting by doing some dryfire drills (indoor shooting practice without any bullets).

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You can often tell if a biathlete has been living somewhere if there are rows of little black dots (targets) taped to the wall.

Upon arrival at our team wax cabins I put on my ski boots and race bib and head to the course. I may need to meet up with one of our wax technicians to do a final test of my skis and choose the fastest pair for the given conditions.

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Christian, our newest wax technician comes from Lillehammer.

Rifle zeroing opens an hour before race time. On my way I stop at equipment inspection to get my rifle’s trigger weight checked to make sure it is not too light. I then shoot some magazines on paper to check that my rifle’s sights are accurate. My coach looks at the bullets’ grouping through a scope and gives me corrections if needed.

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Coach Jonne helps zero my teammate Annelies.

I finish with a “confirmation,” a hard loop skied around the stadium followed by shooting one more magazine to make sure my grouping stays centered with a higher heart rate. Then I load my magazines for the race and bring my rifle to the starting pen.

During the remainder of my time, I warm up skiing around the course. I use the opportunity to inspect the day’s snow conditions and I adapt my race plan and strategy if needed. 25 minutes or so before my start time, I do three minutes of race-pace effort and several short full speed pickups. 10 minutes before race time I report to the starting pen. I receive my race skis from our staff and bring them to equipment inspection to get marked. I pick up transponder timing chips that must be worn around my ankles.

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With less than five minutes to go, after some last minute jogging to stay loose, I shed my warm-up clothes. I triple check that I loaded all my magazines. Then it is time to line up at the start gate. The race is on! As soon as I am on course, the pre-race nerves go away.

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Lining up for the start during a small race last weekend with the German team in Sjusjøen, Norway.

Our World Cup race season begins this Sunday with a mixed relay in Östersund, Sweden (9:30 am EST in the US). Like all our World Cup races, you can stream it live.

Bags Packed, Ready for Snow!

17.Nov.2014 by Susan Dunklee

Saturday morning I woke up from a dream about packing for the winter. More specifically it was about packing long underwear tops. I was debating whether or not to bring a certain item with me to Europe. There were several factors to consider. “Would this shirt be warm enough to wear under my race suit in sub zero temperatures ? Would the material become reasonably clean with hand-laundering in a bathroom sink? Would it hold up to four and a half months of constant use?” I always have a lot of different things that need to fit in my luggage so I allocate space for four long underwear tops, no more. After finally deciding to reject that particular top (a different wool one would be a better option), I woke up from my dream. All that agonizing and I hadn’t actually started packing yet!

While racing the World Cup circuit, we live out of our duffel bags and we move almost every week to a new country and a new hotel room.

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Our first stop for 2014-15: cozy cabins in Sjusjøen, Norway.

For both logistical reasons and to minimize travel day anxiety it is important not to overpack. Everything must have a purpose. I now have a pretty good idea of what I need and what I can do without, but it did help to make a list of exactly what I was traveling with at the end of last season. I used it as a reference as I scrambled on Saturday to pack for an entire winter.

So far I haven’t noticed anything major that I forgot. However I had a good laugh in the shower today when I realized I brought two bottles of conditioner and no shampoo. At least that’s an easy fix.

This afternoon we arrived in Norway. It’s our home for the next 10 days of training before we head to Sweden to start the World Cup race season. Tomorrow morning we will get on snow for the first time and next weekend we will do a tune up practice race with the German team. After months of skiing on pavement I’m looking forward to the real deal!

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Tonight’s scene in Sjusjøen: stadium and shooting range

Wild Blueberries and World Championships Preparation

31.Jul.2014 by Susan Dunklee

Four years ago, we welcomed a Finn onto the National Team staff when US Biathlon hired Jonne Kähkönen to be our head women’s coach. This summer, he finally got the opportunity to share a full dose of Finnish culture with us when we traveled to Scandinavia for a training camp.

The women’s team spent a week and a half training at next winter’s World Championship venue in Kontiolahti, Finland. Kaisa Mäkäräinen, reigning World Cup overall champion, joined us for most of our training sessions and showed us around while we were in town.

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Training on the Kontiolahti range. Sometimes we had three nationalities represented at practice: Hannah, Katja Yurlova from Russia, Kaisa, myself and Annelies.

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One day we drove to Koli National Park to do some uphill rollerski intervals: 3 times up southern Finland’s biggest “mountain.”

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Mt. Koli wasn’t very high, but it had a gorgeous view. Hannah observed that it felt a lot like Elmore State Park back home.

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Scenic views along the climb. Photo: Jonne Kähkönen

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For a couple afternoon workouts, we did some orienteering. Orienteering is wildly popular in Finland with new courses set up a couple times a week and we decided it would be a good cultural experience. Plus hunting down the controls made a two hour training run go by incredibly quickly.

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Team BBQ night in Joensuu. Clockwise: Hannah, Jani (physio), Kaisa, Erika (Jonne’s wife and our cook this week), Jonne, and Annelies.

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No BBQ is complete without a game of cornhole.

Two factors made it a real challenge to get enough recovery between workout sessions. The first was a blazing Scandinavian heatwave. Our solution to that problem was to swim post workout and any other time the heat started getting to us.

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Annelies enjoying a lakeside swing.

The second challenge was the endless hours of daylight. I had never been in such a far northern place during the summer. The sky stayed light well past my normal bedtime which made me feel wide awake at 11:00. I still haven’t figured out how to adequately deal with that…

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A local newspaper reporter asked me what the best part of summer training camp in Finland was. Wild blueberries of course! Photo: Hannah Dreissigacker

A Need to See Mountains

25.Jul.2014 by Susan Dunklee

One of my favorite things about being a biathlete is traveling to all sorts of interesting places. One of the more frustrating things is not getting to really see them. We get to know our competition venues, our hotel rooms and maybe the neighborhood grocery stores extremely well, but we often don’t see much else due to our competition and training schedules.

This summer, I wanted to truly see one of the cool places we go. We had a National Team training camp in Scandinavia scheduled for July so I flew to Oslo early and spent my recovery week beforehand exploring on my own. I love backpacking and had always dreamed of seeing Norway’s mountains so I spent a few days hiking across Jotunheimen National Park.

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Logistics were simple to plan. The Norwegian hut system provided dinners, breakfasts and sleeping dormitories. I just needed to carry the basics, like clothes, a sleeping bag liner, a map, lunch food and water. Hiking mid-week, I didn’t really need to make reservations ahead of time. The trickiest planning? Figuring out good trailheads to start and end at that would work well with public transportation schedules.

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Hut #1: Songefjellshytta. It was pure coincidence that the most convenient trailhead to begin my hike sat next to one of the country’s main spring xc skiing centers, although one I had never heard of. Biathlon and XC national teams from Norway and elsewhere often visit in June for well groomed snow and precisely salted trails. The owner of the hut told me that he closed the trails for the season only three days before I arrived. I could still see the remains of the ski course on the back side of the lake.

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Jotunheimen, “the home of giants,” is almost entirely above tree line and several of the mountains have glaciers like these ones above Sognefjellshytta.

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It is also the home of lemmings, lots of them. These little critters were everywhere in the rocky tundra. (Photo: www.kolumbus.fi)

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Perhaps my favorite thing to spot was a rare patch of color that jumped out at me during my drizzly first day of hiking.

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Hut # 2: Skogadalsbøen, an oasis of lush, verdant plant life. Unfortunately my camera battery died at this point, so I didn’t get any fun pictures of the people I met. I arrived at the hut in the early afternoon and befriend a group of four Norwegian soldiers. Although everyone I met spoke incredible English, my Norwegian-English pocket dictionary came in quite handy playing a Pictionary-like board game with them. I was able to look up the words on my cards so I knew what picture I was supposed to draw. The guys also taught me a bunch of fun facts about their homeland. For example, Norway’s proud claims to fame include inventing the paperclip and the cheese slicer.

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All trails were blazed with the bright red “T” of the Norwegian Trekking Association. My next day of hiking was marked as 11 hiking hours. Distances on trail maps are marked with hiking hours rather than distance. Back home in the States, experience has taught me that I can usually halve a guide book’s estimated hiking time. Not so in Norway. 11 hours means 11 hours of a fit person moving at a brisk pace and taking very few breaks. I was able to shave off a bit of time, but still put in a long day on the trail.

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Hut #3: Gjendbu. This hut is a popular stop for visitors hiking Norway’s arguably most picturesque hike over the Besseggen ridge. I stayed at the hut but avoided hiking Besseggen due to large holiday crowds. (Photo: www.gjendebu.com)

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Lake Gjende from above. Most of the lakes and streams contain glacial “rock flour” which lends them a turquoise tint. Also in this picture, notice one of the only forested sections of Jotunheimen National Park. (Photo: www.gjendebu.com)

Mountain time is great for the soul. I left Jotunheimen feeling refreshed and relaxed, having met many friendly and fascinating hikers at the huts and having spent quality hours alone on the trails. Norway is certainly a place I could see myself returning to again and again for more outdoorsy adventures, but for now I’m ready to return to the highly structured biathlon lifestyle.