Sunday, January 25, 2015

Skiing with the Community

Caitlin and I dropped down to Hayward, WI after US Nationals for a week of training on the American Birkebeiner Trail in perfect mid winter conditions.  After a solid few days of training the weekend kicked off with the Seeley Hills Classic 42km.  This is one of my favorite races and one that I have won twice.  The competition was really good this year with Matt Liebsch and Tad Elliot also in town.  We finished in the same order as in the American Birkebeiner in 2012 with Tad taking the win ahead of Matt and then me.

Race Organizer, Friend, and Champions of skiers Dennis Kruse
On Sunday we skied the Birkie Tour which is a non competitive, fully supported tour of the Birkie trail.  We both opted for the 45km freestyle tour and it was a blast to ski a big loop with friends and plenty of food and drink along the way.  It was amazing how many people were out for the tour and it was fun to be able to chat while we skied relaxed and enjoyed the north woods.

Heading to the start of the Birkie Tour felt very similar to heading to the start of the race

Skiing with Travis and Vince

Caitlin having fun on the Birkie Trail

Touring Life Link III's Koala Helicopter and Air Ambulance
We decided to go big for the weekend and after a quick recharge from our 3 hour ski we met up with 145 kids from Nordic Kids.  This group of kids were amazing in how fearlessly they took on the challenges we presented them.

Can you make it to me in less than 5 kicks by gliding on your 1 ski?

Caitlin signing Autographs for the kids after our ski
After a busy two months of racing we decided that we needed to take a break from racing and put in some needed training time.  My results and feeling the last two weekends have left me realizing that I need to put in a bit more distance and threshold skiing and fewer harder efforts.  We are doing a little high altitude training camp now in sunny Colorado.

Yes, let's take that trail.

Monday, January 12, 2015

US Nationals Championships in Review

Selfie with Blizzard the Husky and Head Michigan Tech University Coach Joe Haggenmiller
Last year I had my best ever US National Championships with a 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 8th (sprint) place finishes.  This year my goals were podiums and I finished the week disappointed with a top finish of 11th in the Classic Sprint and poor results for me in both distance races with a 14th and 21st.  On the bright side my Classic Sprint finish is a personal best classic sprint finish at Nationals and I qualified 7th in the Freestyle sprint which is a strong qualification position for me.

A close finish in my quarter final.  I actually finished 3rd, but advanced to the semi finals as a luck loser since I had the fastest time of all the 3rd place finishers.
After the 2010 Olympics, and our engagement, Caitlin made it one of her goals to help me make the 2014 Olympic Team.   Competing as a husband and wife duo is awesome, but it is not easy.  Success as an elite level athlete requires a ton of support from sponsors, friends, family and community.  It is rare to have two elite level athletes be in a relationship who are both still competing.  We are often tired, stressed and hungry at the same time which makes supporting each other even more draining.  A huge advantage we do have as a married couple is our ability to know how best to support each other.  We know the words of encouragement to say at the right time, we know how we can be the most helpful during training or recovery.  We also get to be together throughout many of our travels, races and training camps.  One thing that we work towards is excellence in everything that we do.  One of the safeguards that we put up is that we name one of us as the priority going in to each year.  This allows the decision of who does the dishes when we are both absolutely exhausted a little bit easier.  Over the last 4 years, and especially the 2013/2014 season Caitlin has made me the priority.  She did a pretty amazing job of this, supporting me to the Olympic Team and numerous wins.  She didn't do too shabby herself winning 3 American Birkebeiner titles and 2 more National Championships.  She even made a real good case for herself to make the 2014 Olympics last year when she won the 20 km Freestyle race by an unheard of 3 minutes 36 seconds.  This year that margin was the difference between 1st and 21st in the Women's 20 km Classic.  Caitlin won the Overall Super Tour last year which granted her World Cup start rights for the first 4 weeks of the season.  This year Caitlin has finally been the priority.   

Caitlin winning the 10km Freestyle National Championships

A huge highlight of the week came through supporting Caitlin to her 5th National Championship. Caitlin was diagnosed with shingles a few days before her first World Cup this Fall and put on anti-biotics.  She was cleared to race, however she did not perform at the level we had seen this summer or were expecting.  She returned from Europe slightly discouraged and tired.  She took a number of days off before returning to really easy and short training.  Back in 2008 US Nationals were in Houghton and Caitlin won the 5km freestyle.  This win was a big one as all the National Team athletes were also there.  The 10 km Freestyle is one of Caitlin's best events and it is her goal race for the 2015 World Championships.  Then men raced the 15 km Freestyle first and unfortunately my race did not go well.  We became worried about our ski and wax choice and spent the 2 hours prior to the race working with our wax team on ski and wax selection.  Thankfully Caitlin started near the back of the A seed (as opposed to bib 1 which we both were last year).  It is advantageous to start near the back because you can receive splits on your competitors.  I ran all over the course to give Caitlin splits at three different locations.  I like to think that my yelling and screaming made a difference as she skied herself to a 12 second win over Rosie Brennan who has had an impressive season and has won nearly every race she has entered this year.

The race took a lot out of Caitlin and she decided to not race the Classic sprint the next day.  Feeling that she was on the edge, she made the smart decision to sit out the 20km classic race as well and focus on winning the freestyle sprint.  She won the qualifier by over 2 seconds and went on to advance to the A final where she made a tactical mistake in her final heat which required her to pass the other 4 girls in the final 400m to secure 2nd.

We are back in Hayward now to take some time to absorb last weeks racing and prepare for the second half of our season.