I’ve once again gotten a little bit behind on blogging about my biathlon adventures.
So I’ll try to do a quick catch-up. (oops, it turned into a long catch-up)
After World Champs I went to Inzell, Germany for the off week before the next World Cup. Inzell is in southern Germany, near the Ruhpolding biathlon venue, and its a nice little Bavarian town in the foothills of the Alps. I didn’t get the sunshine that I was hoping for in Inzell, but we did get lots of fluffy new snow, hearty Bavarian food, and lots of time to relax. We skied on the trails that connected the little villages around the valley, and made use of the sauna and hot tub on a daily basis. I didn’t know what I’d done to deserve such a nice Bavarian vacation!
But after that interlude it was back to “business” as I travelled to Oslo, Norway along with the rest of the Biathlon Circus. In Oslo, all of the athletes from all of the countries stayed at the same big fancy hotel up on top of the Holmenkollen Hill, only a short walk away from the venue. I once again felt extremely spoiled. From our hotel we could look out on the entire city of Oslo and the fjord beyond. The food was delicious and came in huge quantities at an enormous smorgasbord buffet. I ate smoked salmon at almost every meal and enjoyed all of the fresh vegetables–a food group that both Czech and Bavarian cuisines shy away from. Meals were crowded, social, and entertaining with all of the world cup biathletes in one dining hall.
The Holmenkollen biathlon venue was perfectly groomed and very fancy, and we got very lucky to have beautiful sunny weather for the entire week. Who could ask for more!! But I had to stay focused–I had a race to race. And I was hoping that I would have more than one race to race–this was my last world cup of the year, and I wanted to be in the top-60 of the sprint so that I could qualify for the pursuit. After my easy week in Inzell I was feeling rested and ready to go, and I liked the course. And since I tend to be a solar-charged sort of person, the sunny weather was a good sign for me also. I was psyched.
In the race I felt good skiing, and I felt like I was getting closer to my real race-gear than I’d been all year. But on the range things weren’t so great. I had two misses in prone, and then two more in standing. I knew that with that shooting it would be very hard for me to make the pursuit. On the last lap I was getting splits that I was only 10 seconds out of the top-60, and I dug deep and went as hard as I could. I left it all out there, and when I crossed the finish line I was in 56th place, but I knew that there were still good racers coming in behind me. And in the end I was in 61st place, only 0.4 seconds away from reaching my goal of qualifying for the pursuit. I was bummed, but also happy with how I had skied. It left me knowing that I could do better next year. For the next few days, I enjoyed cheering on my teammates and going for long skis around the vast Holmenkollen trail network. Then I said bye to my new biathlon team family–teammates, wax techs, and coaches–and I headed off on my next adventure.
I’d decided that after the Oslo world cup, I should take advantage of being in Europe and do something that I’d always wanted to do: race one of the big European ski marathons. It was perfect timing because the Engadin, the world’s largest skate marathon, was the following weekend in Switzerland and Nils was already planning on going. We were a part of a group of Americans doing the race with the help of Tony Wiederkehr, a skiing supporter and an avid Engadin-racer himself. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I was psyched to be continuing my European racing adventure. Throughout the week we scoped out the 42-k race course and entertained ourselves by people-watching and window-shopping in ritzy St. Moritz. On the friday night before the race I competed in an exposition night sprint race in the streets of St. Moritz Bad, and I surprised myself by taking 4th and winning enough Swiss francs to bring my trip budget out of the red. “Sweet!” I thought, bring on this marathon!
But the marathon turned out to be a whole new sort of adventure. It was sort of like the Birkie, but on steroids, and in a beautiful place with mountains and bright sunshine. Also the course was flatter and narrower, and there was no separate wave for elite women. I had been seeded into the “elite A” wave–which, as it turns out, wasn’t really an elite wave at all. Along with 1,000 others–almost all of them men–I started at the same time but 10 meters behind the real “elite” wave. Then another 10 meters behind us was the “elite B” wave–another thousand strong. I had tried to put my skis down early to hold a spot for myself, but then 15 minutes before the start, I couldn’t find them. Finally I found them but by that time I had no choice but to set them up at the back of the pack. I looked around for some other women to join, but couldn’t find any. The start of the race could have been from a battle scene of some epic “cast of thousands” movie set on a frozen lake in a beautiful Swiss valley. It was an awesome feeling to be in the midst of such a mass of moving, fighting, clashing, skiing humanity. Only a few meters past the line, I got tripped, and then run over by the elite b wave as I tried to get up. But my adrenal system kicked in, and soon I was back up and fighting my way along and through like everyone else. My poles kept getting kicked and stepped on and I remember thinking that I was lucky they hadn’t broken yet, and I was glad that I’d taped the bottom foot or so of them to help protect them. And then my pole broke. So then I skied with a very short pole for a while. At this point I resigned myself to being nowhere near the top women, and decided that I should just enjoy the craziness of it all.
But I couldn’t just give up, and I couldn’t help but be annoyed about the broken pole. After a few k I got a spare pole from the race service people, but then I immediately regretted it–the pole was 6 inches too long and felt so heavy and awkward compared to my light racing pole. But eventually I got used to it and I ended up skiing over half of the race with it. I spent the rest of the race trying to move my way up, while also trying to just have fun and not care about how I was doing–but these were sort of conflicting interests. Passing was difficult and often frustrating. The Engadin course has many narrow pinchpoints and the pace would slow to a walk as the huge pack hit the few uphills along the way. Also, my mostly-male compatriots were taking the race very seriously and did not appreciate getting passed by anyone, let alone a girl. But I managed to move up some, and also to enjoy myself, and the second half of the race was much less frantic–I got my very own spare pole from Clarke, our wax tech extraordinaire, and the pack spread out a little bit. I crossed the finish line in a stream of other finishers. What an experience!
Afterwards I enjoyed sitting in the sun, drinking a beer and watching while thousands of people finished–some of them wearing sombreros or fat-suits, or where’s-waldo costumes. It was an awesome ski race!