Rogla, Slovenia – The US Ski Team did not have a great day on the trails today, but still managed to turn in some solid results. Andy Newell set a personal-best with a 41st in the men’s 30km classic mass start, and Kikkan Randall finished 30th in the women’s 15km event.
Neither, however, were thrilled with their performances.
Lars Flora was 47th, and Kris Freeman dropped out due to blood sugar issues.
Solid For Newell
Newell skied the first 15km with the leaders, but paid a price.
“I’m happy to have finished with my best distance result, but I wasn’t too satisfied with my time back. I think I would have been more successful if I tried to ski my own race a little more. But you just can’t do that in a mass start. I always try to tell myself I can… And then I just try to hang with the pack.
“The first 15K or so were fun because I was skiing in a massive pack… But eventually I had to slow down and my time definitely suffered.”
USST Coach Justin Wadsworth saw the race as a positive for Newell.
“He doesn’t do that many 30k’s, especially on the World Cup, so it was a good learning experience, and he skied real smooth and real solid – definitely nothing to be disappointed in for him.”
Newell continues to improve his distance racing. Even last spring, at the world Cup finals, he was not in a position to compete with the top skiers in the longer events. But so far this season he has turned that around.
“It feels great to be in good shape and healthy,” Newell said. “I’m starting a bet with Bird [Kris Freeman] to see who can score points first… Him in sprint or me in distance. He was close on Saturday [32nd] so I have a lot of work to do. But I’ll just keep plugging away.”
Randall Not Feeling Sharp
Randall, despite scoring World Cup points, and having her best result in a race over 10km, did not feel good.
“It was a really fast pace from the start, and I had a good bib so I wanted to be in the fight, but by 2k I was feeling tired already. I fought mentally to keep myself in the race and midway through started feeling a little bit better and started pulling some people in,” she said.
She made it up to 30th, scoring a single World Cup point.
While she had a strong sprint last weekend in Davos, her race yesterday was also not up to par.
“I have been over here for six weeks and I’m excited to come home. I’ve been feeling a little flat and haven’t been feeling great for a couple of weeks now.”
She was 7th in Davos in the skate sprint, and appeared back on track.
“Last weekend in the skate sprint things started coming around a little. I was hoping that would spark it, but this week I didn’t have great feeling.
“Going home, taking a little break and enjoying Christmas – I’ll be ready to go again soon.”
Conditions were excellent for classic skiing, with cold hard tracks. Wadsworth said that glide was excellent in the sprint, and it was similar today, while kick was relatively straightforward in the blue range.
Freeman Stymied by Sugar
Kris Freeman, coming off the consecutive top-7 distance races, and a career-best 32nd in yesterday’s sprint, dropped out of today’s race at 22km. He had been skiing with the leaders until 20k.
“These longer races are really hard with his blood sugar,” said Wadsworth. “Obviously his fitness is good, so that wasn’t an issue.”
Kris’ personal coach, Zach Caldwell provided detailed information on what happened today. Rather than excerpt or paraphrase, and risk confusion, Zach’s thorough report follows. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, according to Zach, “The short story is that Kris had some blood sugar issues. However, they were not the sort of sugar issues that have caused him to have bad days
in the past.”
The short story is that Kris had some blood sugar issues. However, they were not the sort of sugar issues that have caused him to have bad days in the past. Usually when Kris misses on his insulin dose it’s because he has too little insulin in his system and he can’t mobilize sugar and move it into his cells. When that happens his blood sugar goes high and his performance suffers. The harder an effort he makes, the more insulin he requires to deal with the sugar that his body automatically releases.
For today’s race Kris and I talked quite a lot about dosing strategy and we decided to try an aggressive dosing strategy to support the kind of efforts that we think will be necessary to win a World Cup event. Today Kris raced on a dose that would be typical for him in a 15K event where a lot of the race is at extremely high output.
It’s not clear that the dosing strategy was the whole problem today. Kris always has to balance his blood sugar shortly prior to the race, which can cause raise some logistical issues. Today when he checked his sugar prior to the race he was at an extremely low level (about 40 mg/dl – normal blood sugar is around 90-100, while hypoglycemic levels in the normal population are considered to be below about 55). Kris had no warm indoor environment in which to test his sugar today, and his trust in the reading was not very high. But he took some gel feeds to help bring the sugar up, and then rechecked his sugar again a few minutes later. This time it was at 30 – a level that would cause most people to lose consciousness. Because he didn’t feel too bad (generally when he gets really low he’ll get cold sweats and feel really bad) he figured that the monitor wasn’t working well.
To be clear – all of this happened before he increased his insulin dose for the race. After deciding to ignore the low sugar readings, Kris increased his dose six-fold in order to mobilize sugar for his race effort. The Omnipod responds to an increase in dosing by incrementally increasing the small dose of insulin that it injects every five minutes. Kris dialed-up his race dose ten minutes prior to the start, anticipating that it would take between forty minutes and an hour to bring the insulin level in his system up to the point where he would be able to ski at maximal effort.
During a race it can be difficult to distinguish between low sugar and high sugar. When things aren’t going well it’s much more common for it to be related to high sugar. Today Kris spent most of the first 20K thinking he had high sugar because he didn’t trust his pre-race checks, but had still taken the gel packs. When it became clear that he would not be able to be a factor in the race he dropped out. When he tested his sugar after dropping out it was at 49 – clearly hypoglycemic.
There will always be days like this for Kris. Thanks to his Omnipod and his really conscientious management of his blood sugar these days have become much less common. While the dosing strategy for today will require some review, the biggest problem was the unexpectedly low sugar prior to initiating the racing dose. Kris’s insulin sensitivity changes with a variety of geographic factors. Some, like altitude, are predictable. But on the whole Kris counts on experience to guide him. He knows that he has really high sensitivity in Falun and really low sensitivity in Davos. He had never been to Rogla prior to arrival on Thursday afternoon. It generally takes a few days for the insulin sensitivity to balance out, and because of the late arrival (the team stayed in Davos for training because of poor snow conditions in Rogla earlier in the week) Kris didn’t have a firm handle on his basal sensitivity going into today’s race. The lesson from today is a confirmation of the importance of having some time at a new venue prior to racing in order to learn basal sensitivity, and the importance of having a warm indoor location available for pre-race sugar testing and balancing.
The good news is that Kris has been feeling great, and even felt as though he could have jumped back into the race today after he got a little sugar in his system. A low sugar episode is much easier to recover from than a high sugar episode. He’s finishing the first period ranked ninth on the distance world cup standings, and he’s coming home healthy. Things are looking good.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.