I had a few hours in the US of A this afternoon. Despite it being entirely at the Chicago O'Hare airport I entirely enjoyed my visit. Everyone was nice and cheerful and joking around. When I came through customs a short round lady came up, smiling, saying, "where you going?" "You stay right there, honey, let me get someone to get these skis for you." And my skis were taken away and rechecked and then she took my duffel and even told me exactly which terminal and gate I needed to go to next. I'm not sure I've ever had a smoother transit through O'Hare.
Except that they took away my apple. A lady with a small dog came around sniffing people's bags and found my snacks. The little dog was over the top pleased with herself for discovering the apple in my bag. Which was more entertaining than if they'd just asked.
Caitlin Compton at her "desk." I don't know why she was sitting on the floor when she had three very good desks in her room. Actually, I think she was combining computer-work with stretching.
It's been a sweet trip to the Czech Republic but I have to leave my teammates, including my favorite suite-mate compton, and head over to Canada in anticipation of Canadian Nationals March 8-15. So I'm traveling... all day today, and then some.
There are a few things I really like about being in Liberec. I've had red or orange or yellow bell peppers at every lunch and dinner since I've gotten here. I have THREE desks in my room so I never have to tidy up or put anything away. It's snowed every day. I only have to do fun training, nothing arduous or lengthy. But most exciting so far was today when Andy Liebner & I were waiting for a shuttle home from the venue and the swiss team drove by and picked us up. That's right, 5 athletes from the Swiss men's team, all speaking beautiful, beautiful swiss german, gave us a ride home. Somehow I don't think Liebner thought that was quite as sweet as I did.
In the Piazzo d'Oro cafe on the edge of the Liberec town plaza the overlaying of Eastern European history and the lycra-clad world of skiing makes an odd juxtaposition. Directly outside my cafe window looms the elaborate stone facade of the Liberec town hall, built in 1888-93. As my gaze travels from the copper spires, green with time, down to street level, the current World Championship event demands acknowledgement. A large "Liberec 2009" banner plasters a short temporary fence in front of the building and neon-coated security guards stand in pairs shifting their weight from foot to foot and taking purposeless steps.
Slightly out of view to my right is a large screen showing the day's events in real-time. Green plants, feeling defected about the persistent snow and mythical sun, obscure my view of the temporary stage where they award the coveted FIS snowflakes. I don't need to see it to be reminded of all it represents-- the years of training, broken down into months, weeks, hours, and minutes of our lives dedicated to a pursuit and a passion that's difficult to justify.
Further down the plaza is a temporary building housing the official "Liberec 2009" merchandise, chintzy hats and t-shirts using the World Champs to promote the city of Liberec. A trail of booths selling souvenirs, food, and booze stretch optimistically down the streets hoping to lure tourist and czech alike into pausing and purchasing en route from the city's main bus stop to the plaza. I shouldered my way through the crowds the other night, peering into booths and enjoying the festival atmosphere with my teammates as the slush soaked into our shoes but it's a Sunday morning now and the plaza is quiet. Most good czechs are in church or, more probably, sleeping off Saturday night's indulgences in the cheap and renowned czech pilsner.
Many of the pedestrians outside my window are associated with the World Champs, identifiable by team jackets, hats, and that look by which skiers can recognize each other. Like me, they're seeing what Liberec has to offer aside from ski trails and jumping hills. I have to wonder to what life they'll be returning after the championships are over. Different norms and mores back home, different motivations, languages, but we still end up at the same ski race and have a shared experience.
Tomorrow I'll be back at the venue, testing skis, coaxing the muscles into firing, and finishing the final preparations for the skate sprints on Tuesday but today I'm taking a break from the streets defined by wax trailers and ski trails outlined in v-boards, letting the body rest, letting the mind wander.
Morgan Smyth won the 5k qualifying race today! So for at least a couple hours we were at a 100% victory rate. Then the men raced their qualifier and our winning streak ended (no US men were entered). Still, it's a good way to kick off the week.
*note: the qualifying 5/10k classic race was for people without good enough points to race (sub 90 men, sub 120 women) and they will let the top ten finishers in the qualifying race compete in the 10/15k classic.
Also, everyone made it through doping control, which was expected but still it's good. Also good to know that every athlete is getting a blood test done here.
The answer is that all of these countries are represented. There's 61 countries competing here. wow. I forget what a big deal World Champs is until I actually show up and see all the billboards for it and have to go through security every time I walk into our dorm building.
"As of the first of this year (roughly two years after the organization incorporated), ITA has worked with 16,987 children; 44% of whom are female, and 56% of whom are male; and 68% of whom are minorities (38% Latino/Latina; 15% African American; 9% Asian; 4% Native American; 1% Indian and 1% Other). Just think about that for a minute: there are nearly 17,000 children who have had the opportunity to listen, to work with and to be inspired by the 15 of you over the past two years. Pretty extraordinary. So my hat’s off to all of you for the amazing work you have done, are doing and will continue to do all in the name of giving today’s kids a better chance at success. Thank you."
This is a note from ITA founder, Amory Rowe. I feel proud of my contribution to the ITA mission and honored to have been selected as an ITA team member. If you're curious about In The Arena and want to find out more about what we do and who my fabulous ITA teammates are, check out the In The Arena website: in-the-arena.org!
There's no where else I'd rather be. There's nothing else I'd rather be doing. Sometimes I wonder how I managed to be lucky enough to lead the life I do.
Imagine. Finishing a race and walking out of the finish pen to watch the best racers in the world skiing the same course on a huge screen. I think it's so valuable to be able to race and then immediately see how the very best ski the same race. It's immensely motivating. I am so fired up about being a ski racer.
Imagine. Being surrounded by gorgeous mountains, bright sunshine, & clear blue skies. Driving through twisty narrow roads (when road signs says "turnante" here, they mean it). Enjoying a cappuccino in Livigno and taking in the scene.
Imagine. Showing up at the World Champs venue on Monday. Knowing there's more racing to be done. And wanting it.
The skate sprint went relatively well today, nothing spectacular but at least no one asked me if I fell. I could feel my tempo bog down in the hills and I think that would have been the difference for me between qualifying & not qualifying. Still... to put things in perspective, I would say this was my best skate sprint qualifier. ever. So I have that going for me.
I didn't fall but kikkan & newell did, which was sad. Newell in the quarterfinal and kikkan in the A-final. It was so painful to watch kikkan fall. She was sitting in third coming into the stadium and you could tell she had more energy than the girl in front of her (Petra was way out in front already) and was going to make a move into second. And then she fell. But still... sixth place is pretty spectacular. Koos also skied spectacularly, 6th in the qualifier and then very aggressively into 8th. Nice.
I'm opting to race the 10k classic tomorrow. This will be my first distance race in a World Cup and I am hoping for my first ever DFL. Not really, but I have never been DFL before (even that one time when I jumped in a pro-1-2 cyclocross race after finding a bike I could borrow about half an hour prior to start...). Last is definitely a possibility for tomorrow, I'm seeded third to last, but I figure that it's better to be last than not to race. World Cup start rights are a finite commodity so tomorrow I race, not to win, but simply because I have the opportunity.
While I was in Rossland training before coming over to Europe, Ellis & I, along with some of the rosslanders, spent some time discussing technique. It was good to have some technique discussions that were more egalitarian than the normal coach-athlete technique session. Ellis & I did some video analysis and put some thought into how I could be skiing better, faster, more efficiently. I think this type of peer review is a superlative way to approach technique because it encourages me to take ownership of my technique changes and decide for myself what needs to be done instead of depending on someone else to tell me.
My conclusion after two weeks of focused, uninterrupted training in Rossland was that I need to ski with intention. Maybe I liked that idea because I'm not exactly sure what I mean by it. There's something freeing in choosing a catch phrase that's open to whatever interpretation fits my mood.
Too often when I watch myself skiing I think "lazy, lazy, lazy." There's not so much wrong with the basic technique movements as there is the attitude behind them. There's too much of just going through the motions; I'm lacking the frenzy of wanting to cover that next 10m so badly that I look like I just might fall on my face. Not, of course, that falling on one's face would be the goal.
Ski with intention. Other candidates for my slogan were ski with a purpose (except I kept thinking "porpoise" instead of "purpose" which is distracting) and ski like you mean it (but I frequently like words based on their syllable count). Ski as though the only thing you desire in the world is to move down the track as fast as possible. It's simple, but sometimes I get caught up in weight transfer and dynamic legs and my world view shrinks to the space my body currently occupies and I fail to plan its future occupation of the space ahead of me.
I want to ski with intention. I want to live my life with intention. If I can ski and race like it matters, then I can live like it matters. I believe that's a sufficient (although not necessary) condition for achieving that elusive satisfaction with life. If you can convince yourself that a ski race is meaningful I think it's easier to find the meaning in the rest of life.
Somehow the realization that I was going to be in different countries for a couple weeks slipped my mind. I was perfectly aware that I was going to Ski Race. I've been anticipating skiing and competing in the World Champs but I forgot about all the things I love about traveling that I was going to experience on this trip also. Even the long flight was just another long travel day to the next ski race and the cultural implications of hopping continents didn't hit me. After an extended stay in Rossland, I'm back to rolling through locales every day. As a review:
Saturday: Rossland, BC -> Wenatchee, WA Sunday: Wenatchee -> Seattle, WA Monday: Seattle -> Airspace A Tuesday: Airspace A -> Munchen, Germany -> Ramsau, Austria Wednesday: Ramsau -> Valdidentro, Italy via Switzerland
Which I like. It's my default setting-- traveling somewhere new every couple of days. Now it's Valdidentro for the weekend's world cup races. (Where, incidentally, I have to PAY for internet which I do not like, so you should be grateful that I'm still posting blogs...)
I love being on the road. Some of the things that have made me happy the past couple of days...
having an entire row to myself on one of my flights. free luggage carts at the airport. playing austrian curling, menner vs dammen, with the other hotel guests in ramsau. pizza in livigno, italy. skiing. everyone speaking different languages. improving my italian & german vocab. crossing borders with no passport control. being at a world cup venue again. curvy mountain roads. avalanche runouts over frozen lakes. pete cleaning the kick wax off my skis. eau frizzante. tiramisu for dessert tonight at li arnoga hotel. that tomorrow is a day before a race.
I arrived in Ramsau! The town is a very cute imitation of... Leavenworth. I had a great ski to loosen up the muscles after a long couple of days of travel. There are ski trails and alpine areas all over this place. And the best part is that the trails are crawling with skiers & not even racers, just people out enjoying skiing. It's a good vibe here. Plus, it's good to hook back up with the rest of the World Champs team.
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." --Aristotle
This is a quote Erik shared with us (coaches have a wide scope-- technique, fitness, waxing, inspiration...) which I found particularly insightful. There's no magic secret to being fast, or accomplished in any field, it's merely being your fastest or your best every day.
"We are what we repeatedly do"
Do I ski as fast as I want to race in my intervals? I'd better be. Do I treat myself and my body like I'm a world class skier? Because that's the only way to become one.
I have semi-retired from computer usage. But I'm still here. My life has been exceedingly simple this week-- skiing, studying, sleeping. I feel very grounded. Don't worry though, Monday I'm hopping a flight to Munich where I'll hook back up with some of my teammates for WC in Valdidentro, Italy. Then it's on to Liberec for the World Champs. so... soon I'll be back to reporting from the bustle of the ski racing scene!
I looked through my training log and my last off day was January 12th... so I requested that today be completely off. I don't know how those off days seem to get so overlooked. They're certainly important too and shouldn't be skipped. Today was so gorgeous and sunny that I still really wanted to go for a ski, but instead I just walked over to the library to do some studying. I'm going to start making these off days a regular habit... too often Off Days are really Travel Days, which I don't find that restful.
As I mentioned, I did race support for one of my friends in the Overlander 50k this Sunday. It was a different experience being at a race in role of coach instead of athlete. I did not like not racing. Being at the start and not starting had me gritting my teeth. It would be ridiculous to do a long distance race at this point in the season but it's still hard to be at a race and not start.
It was interesting to experience a race from the other side of the v-boards. I think doing race support is more stressful than racing. I was worried that I'd miss feeds, hand my athlete an empty bottle or miscount laps (there were five) and leave before the last lap. I didn't mess up and it was pretty fun to be out there cheering for people. Especially since they really didn't expect to have spectators so people were a little surprised to see me standing on the side of the trail. I like cheering at races where people smile back and say hi as they go by. It was also sweet to see Cyrus race... it's always fun to see a cyberfriend in real life!
One of my fellow ITA athletes, Matt Chisam, decathlete, sent out a query concerning nature vs nurture in regards to sports. I think nurture is much more important and nature only incidental. Below are my responses to his questions. Be sure to check out the thoughts of the other ITA athletes on this subject!
THE BASICS 1. What is the athletic background of your parents and family? Neither of my parents have been competitive athletes, or even the more general definition of athletes who compete in their sport. My family was very active while I was growing up-- our summer vacations were week-long backpacking trips and I was introduced to a variety of sports and activities.
2. When did you begin participating in your sport? I started skiing as soon as I could walk. I also competed in local races since I was young but I didn't think of myself as a ski racer until I was about 12 years old.
THE EXTRAS 1. What was your early experiences with sport like? My early memories of sport are fun and laid-back. I don't remember any pressure and at races we were more concerned with hanging out before and after the race as what happened during the race. Participating in sports was a good reason to travel and hang out with my friends.
2. How instrumental were parents and coaches in the early part of your development as an athlete? My parents have certainly been instrumental in my development as a person, which has had a big influence on me as an athlete. I've also had very good and influential coaches. Despite that, as a whole, my teammates and fellow athletes have been more instrumental in my development as an athlete. They're the ones who really inspire me to work hard because they're doing the same.
3. How were you introduced to your sport and how many other sports did you seriously participate in? I was introduced to cross country skiing as a family activity. I also participated in the local youth program. I was a serious runner and road cyclist at various times but there was never a conflict in priorities-- I always knew that skiing was my number one sport-- everything else was cross-training for skiing!
4. Is your success a product of nature or nurture? Both! There are attributes that are certainly genetic but without the encouragement and support of my family, friends & coaches I never would have realized that I had any talent. I would give more weight to nurture as a source of success because in any different setting I almost certainly would have taken up a different pursuit. I was first introduced to skiing and then given continuous opportunities to engage in it and learn.
5. Are you an expert in your field? (by your own definition) Nope. It seems that I'm always on the cusp of being an expert in skiing, but every time I get close to that my definition of expert changes!