After a brief leave from northern Finland, I came back to race the Ruka Triple. The Ruka Triple is a three day mini-tour of World Cup racing in Ruka, Finland, a resort town near Kuusamo. Ruka is famous for steep and long uphills, fast downhills, darkness, and bitter cold weather. Since winter is late in arriving to Europe this year,we arrived to find all of the above except for the frigid temperatures. There was a little natural snow on the ground (some of the first that we’ve seen yet in Scandinavia) but the race organizers were working overtime preparing the course. In the days leading up to the weekend’s races we were lulled to sleep by the hum of snow guns blowing snow outside our condo and woken up the next more by all kinds of heavy machinery moving the piles of snow onto the trail. They prepared a 5km loop of manmade snowwhich was the longest loop I had skied on so far this year!
As I gain experience and race on the international circuit, I always keep my eyes open and watch what others are doing, hoping to learn some tricks of the trade. Ruka is the perfect place to do this as we were staying in condos next to the trail. Our living room and bedroom windows looked overlooked an out and back section of trail which was lit 24 hours a day and perfect for watching people ski by all day and into the night. Some teams train A LOT! The Russians train constantly, skiing in the morning before the race, in the evening after the race, and spending the rest of their time running and doing plyos and other stretching exercises. Marit Bjoergen also did her share of training outside our window as well as winning the overall for the weekend.
Last year I raced my first individual World Cup in Ruka and had good races here so I was excited to return and improve on those results. The first day was a classic sprint and after rainy and warm temperatures the day before the race and then cold temperatures at night, the course was icy and fast! The race was over before I knew it! The times were very tight and after just missing the heats, it was hard to not look back and think of all the places where I could have easily gained time. Still I skied much better than I did a couple weeks ago in the sprint in Muonio so I was very pleased to feel to have felt that improvement. It was awesome to watch Kikkan, the lone American woman in the heats, ski to a fourth place finish! Each heat, she skied over the top of the big hill so powerfully, building momentum into the finish, and passing girls who were slowing down. It was fun to watch!
The next day was a 5km skate race on a very hilly course. The hills in Ruka are huge! After last weekend’s race I must admit my confidence in my skating was not high so my goals were only to ski smoothly and efficiently and hang with anyone who caught me. During the race I was surprised but pleased to see myself catching the girl who started in front of me. I got excited and started pushing harder, watching the gap shrink. Then I hit the final hill of the course, a steep grind back into the stadium, and really hit the wall. Despite my best attempts to ski smoothly, my arms and legs could no longer coordinate movements and it may have been better to just take off my skis and walk or run up the hill. I crossed the line in 47th but the times were tight and I was less than 15 seconds out of the top 30 and was happy with how I had skied until the final hill. It was also my first race here where I felt like I could ski with these girls and hold my own which is a huge confidence booster in such a competitive and large field.
Finally Sunday’s race was a 10km classic pursuit seeded based on the results from the past two day’s races. The race was 4 laps of 2.5km course that basically consolidated the hills on the already really hard 5km course. It was going to be a fun race as I was starting in the middle of the pack and very close to my teammates Sadie and Liz and Chandra and Perianne from Canada. There were three tracks around the whole course so looking ahead, staying on your toes, and finding openings to pass was important. The big uphills and fast downhills on the course made it feel a lot like doing intervals as I skied hard up the hills and then tried to recover the best I could on the downs. Liz and I worked together and moved up through the pack. Going into the finishing lanes I was not nearly as aggressive as the German girl next to me and I found myself bodychecked out of my lane and left without a hope for winning the sprint finish. It ended up being my best distance finish at 37th for the day and moving up fourteen places from where I started. Kikkan had another great finish holding onto 6th place for the tour and Holly also finished in the top 30!
We skied once more this morning in Ruka and it actually felt cold. Kuusamo’s cold fog had finally settled in overnight and I was quite unprepared for the sting of the temperatures and soon found my hands and feet frozen. Brrr….winter can be chilly! Good thing we are on our way to Davos, Switzerland where the latest reports showed green grass sun and another short manmade loop of snow!
Sorry I don’t have any race photos but here are some of Ruka pictures.