The trip to Faribanks, AK for the US Distance National Championships was one of the most fun trips of the year, and a wonderful way to end the 2008/2009 ski season. The Hanley family, and many of their neighbors were kind enough to let us stay in their beautiful, unique Alaskan homes. I stayed with the McWayne family for the first half of the trip, and Teri Viereck for the last part. Thank you to everyone who housed CXC athletes for your hospitality and for making this trip such a huge success.
Again, “the Last Frontier” lived up to its reputation and tested our patience with Mother Nature, this time in the form of a volcanic eruption instead of dangerously cold temperatures (see January 2009). Most of the week was very enjoyable, with temperatures in the mid 20’s and sunshine every day; however, Mt. Redoubt went off several times during the week, one of which happened to be on Monday when everyone showed up at the airport to leave between 4 and 5 AM. Flights were canceled all day, and I was not able to get to Minneapolis until Wednesday night.
The week of racing started on Tuesday with a 5K (women) and 10K (men) classic race. Results can be found HERE. This was a decent classic race for me, but I would still like to get faster. Bryan Cook led the men’s team finishing 7th place overall (5th American) while Caitlin Compton led the women’s team finishing 5th place overall.
Next was the Team Sprint competition. For those of you who are not familiar with team sprints, teams are made up of 2 athletes. The course in Fairbanks consisted of a very challenging 1.3K loop. Each skier goes around the loop once before tagging off to their partner, and a race consists of 3 laps per person (6 laps per team). In addition, there is a semi-final and a final. You must be top 5 in your semi-final to qualify for the final. To win the race, you end up skiing the lap 6 times (12 laps per team) or 7.8 K total (15.6K per team). This event can be really hard, but it is always super fun. On Wednesday, I teamed up with Caitlin Compton. We were the 5th ranked team going into the event, but we had extremely high expectations. I woke up on Wednesday morning nervous, much more nervous than I had been all year. One of the reasons that team sprints are so cool is because you are not just racing for yourself but racing for a teammate, which often brings out the best in me.
We cruised through our semi-final, not working too hard except for the first lap, and finishing 2nd place. After completion of the semi-final I was even more nervous because I knew the final would be very different. Compton was the first leg for our team so I knew that I would be bringing us into the finish. In my leg the field was very stacked, including 2009 World Champ Silver Medalist, Kikkan Randall, and Liz Stephen who was 4th in this same event at a World Cup in January. Our strategy was to have Caitlin put the hurt on during her 2nd and 3rd leg, and get me a gap so that we could ware out the rest of the field. This would also allow me to ski like crazy and hopefully hold off the rest of the field to the finish line. Now, can you see why I was so nervous?!? I tried suggesting a few other strategies that were less stressful and did not involve Kikkan and Liz hunting me down, but this strategy was our best shot to win and Compton and Coach Fish would not do it any other way (I love them for this).
On the first lap, Kristina Strandberg of the Saab/Salomon Factory team took the lead, but the top 6 teams stayed together and Compton crossed the line in 3rd. The next lap was similar with Liz Stephen taking the lead and myself coming through a close 4th place. It is important to note, that the pace on the first lap was fast, very fast. I came through the finish drop-dead exhausted and had less than 4 minutes to recover before heading out again. Each lap was increasingly difficult and I was giving it everything to stay with the leaders. On Compton’s last lap, I watched intently because this is where she was planning to make a move. The announcer’s voice heightened as Caitlin hammered up the hill in first place clearly giving it everything she had to make the rest of the field hurt. Although Compton was strong, the rest of the field was too and her surge did not work. She came around the final corner in 3rd place still in close contact with Kristina Strandberg, who partnered with Kristina Trygstad-Saari, Morgan Smyth, who partnered with Liz, and Kikkan’s partner Katie Ronsse about 10 seconds behind the lead group. I came out of the hand-off behind Kristina Trygstad-Saari and then Liz came around on our right to take the lead. Kristina had let a little gap form on the uphill of the previous lap so I knew that she was tired and I knew I had to dig deeper and try to go with Liz. I followed Liz up the hill going as hard as I could the whole entire time. My legs were burning and I knew that if I fell off of her pace my technique would fall apart and Kikkan (the second fastest sprinter in the world) was somewhere close behind. The last lap is mostly a blur, it went by super fast and before I knew it I was picking my lane for the sprint finish. I made up a little ground, but there was not much time after the 180 degree corner to pass anyone in a sprint, especially the way I was feeling. After a long tough season, I was more than happy with second place.
It was also wonderful to have so many friends in the shoot and on the podium. Three of the six women on the women’s team sprint podium were NMU alumni (Morgan Smyth, Caitlin Compton, and I). Morgan was an integral part of my success at NMU. Over the years, we have helped bring out the best in each other, and there is no one I would rather stand one step down to on the podium of a team event. Caitlin and I look forward to a rematch next year.