Last week in Anchorage, a freak windstorm rolled through that would have devastated most mainland Americans. Gusts estimated at 130 miles per hour spewed trees across Alaska’s largest city, leaving at least a thousand residents without power through Saturday – almost four days after the storm hit Tuesday night.
In a phone interview, U.S. Ski Team member Kikkan Randall said the electricity and all the lights at her home came on at 2:15 a.m. Saturday. One tree took out part of their backyard fence, but Randall’s husband, Jeff Ellis, repaired it in no time. Their biggest concern was their refrigerator and freezer, so the two went out and got a generator.
Elsewhere in the city, Randall’s teammate on the U.S. Ski Team (USST) and Alaska Pacific University (APU), Sadie Bjornsen said the power at her on-campus housing was restored Wednesday morning. On the phone, Bjornsen laughed about how she didn’t even know the storm was coming.
A professor in one of her classes warned students about its potential effects. She hadn’t heard anything about it otherwise.
“I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I came out of the house and I was like, ‘What is going on? There’s a hurricane!’ ” she recalled with a laugh. “[My APU teammate Rosie Brennan and I] were driving and there were road signs ripping out and flying across the road and all this stuff flying around, and all the stoplights were out. I’m like, ‘Whoa, this is wild!’ ”
When she got home Tuesday evening, Bjornsen moved her car to avoid falling trees. Later that night, the 22-year-old had trouble falling asleep.
“I was freaking out because I’m like, ‘I’m going to wake up with a tree in my lap,’ because I’m on the corner where all the trees were blowing,” she said. “But then when I looked out the next day, I was like, ‘Oh those are all aspen or birch trees, and they aren’t that heavy.’ ”
Reports indicated that nobody was seriously injured, and Bjornsen was relieved. “Only in Alaska,” she said.
On Saturday, Randall said the weather was back to normal with the sun shining and slightly chilly temperatures. That morning they received their first frost. That was Alaska, all right.
Bjornsen’s Back/Foot Troubles
Way up north, the two Anchorage skiers have endured more than extreme weather in the last few months. Bjornsen’s been coping with back and foot injuries since the spring, and Randall is in a walking boot and training at 50 percent to heal a stress reaction in her foot.
While both joked about doing aqua-jogging sessions together, they also shared some of their frustrations and ways of staying positive through adversity. FasterSkier spoke with Bjornsen and Randall separately: Bjornsen while she was home studying before strength training, and Randall while she cheered on her husband at a local cyclocross race.
Bjornsen’s back injury started nearly a year ago in November, but by the time the racing season started, it disappeared, she said. After two and a half weeks of discomfort, she didn’t feel it again until this past April, just in time for the beginning of training season.
She’s had the overuse issue since and initially remedied it by skate skiing. Classic skiing – her strength – seemed to irritate her facet joints the most, so she decided to skate only.
“Originally I was like, ‘Well, OK I’m just going to skate every single workout. I have a weakness with skating anyways so this is great,’ ” Bjornsen said. “That’s what I did and then I got tendonitis in my foot because of it. That’s when I have to stop and say, ‘I need to actually address this problem.’
“It’s challenging because you have a back and a foot injury so then you have to find exercises that are not stressing both of those things because they’re kind of opposites,” she added. “It’s just been hard to find ways to progress.”
Bjornsen discovered her tendonitis at the USST camp in Bend, Ore., in May. With the USST/Canadian women’s joint camp (also known as the North American Women’s Training Alliance) two weeks later in June, she pushed through the injury and raced to get into shape.
“I knew [Finland’s] Aino-Kaisa Saarinen (Auku) would be coming [to the Alaska training camp] and since I first started watching her ski, I have dreamt about classic skiing behind her,” Bjornsen wrote on her blog. “I over-jumped my limitations, skiing a two hour skate through the hills chasing Auku and Kikkan. Again, I was back at the bottom with my heart hanging low. At that point I had to make the difficult decision to leave the National Team Camp in my own town and get away from the excitement and motivated girls to truly get my body back to order.”
Since then, Bjornsen’s let her body recover for the better part of the last three months. She recently started doing some intensity on her feet, which she was excited about. It was a long summer without it, she said.
“I was just doing my intervals running in the pool,” she said with a laugh. “People in the pool will just look at me, like, ‘Why are you breathing so hard, for one, and what are you doing?’ ”
Not to mention, it’s a community pool.
“It’s been a bit humiliating, but it’s fun,” Bjornsen said. “It’s the world’s most boring thing you could ever do, but it makes you appreciate when you go out and do ski intervals, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, this is why I do this sport.’ ”
This summer, Bjornsen has been to the glacier twice to ski and said she’s making progress. As far as she can tell, her back is almost in the clear and her tendonitis is practically gone.
“The thing about tendonitis and stuff like that is you want it to just go away in two days,” she said. “But it’s just kind of something that you always have to look out for a little bit. I’ve just been working through strengthening it.”
As for her fitness, she said it’s hard not to imagine where she should be.
“You feel like you’re so far behind when you have these setbacks, you know? It’s hard to not only focus on that,” she said. “The most challenging part about it is there’s not really an answer to how to make it better. It’s like, ‘You need to work on not having muscle spasms.’ … [I’m trying to think] about where I’ve progressed from two months ago and thinking about the season’s really long. You kind of have to think about the end of the season as well as the beginning.”
Her coach, Erik Flora, has been one of her biggest advocates and sources of support, she said. He’s shown her ways to be creative with training, even if it is in the pool.
“Erik’s like, ‘If you stay positive through these sections is when you decide if you’re in it for the long run or if you’re going to wuss out or something,’ ” Bjornsen said.
She’s decided to stick with it.
“It’s been a really challenging summer, for sure,” she said. “It was challenging to have to leave the national-team camp here in Alaska, and it was challenging to have to say no to [the USST camp in] Sweden because I wasn’t healthy enough to be there.”
“It’s just been a rollercoaster of making progress this summer,” she added. “I don’t know where I am, I guess we’ll see, but probably not where I would have hoped to be. Maybe in two months I will be somewhere I hope to be. The cool thing about our sport is your racing is not only based on your year of training, it’s also based on what you’ve done and what you’ve done in the past and what your strengths are. The best you can do is be really positive and do what you can do.”
In about a month, Bjornsen will join Randall and the rest of the USST for their final dryland camp in Park City, Utah. She plans to use the time to practice on the sprint course at Soldier Hollow and nail the slingshot descent into the stadium.
“Somehow I’m always at the wrong place on that last corner, so hopefully I’m going to learn that one this year,” she said.
Looking ahead, that venue is where Bjornsen hopes to podium at the upcoming U.S. nationals in January. Last year, a sinus infection kept her from racing for a national title in Rumford, Maine, which led to another goal: staying healthy.
“That even means paying attention more when I’m sick, to really admit that I’m sick and sort of jump on it rather than just pretend that you’re superman and it’s never going to get to you,” she said.
Throughout the next few weeks, Bjornsen will increase her intensity training. Meanwhile, most of her USST teammates (except those from APU) will do something similar throughout the next two weeks at a camp in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Heading into Park City, Bjornsen said she’d continue to build her base and intensity on skis.
“I still have two and a half months [until the racing season] and the progress I’ve made in the last month has been super encouraging,” she said “I still have hope for the season; there’s a lot to be trained still.”
Randall Healing Both Feet
Without too many injuries in her storied career, Randall feels the same way. She took her foot injury in stride during the Swedish joint camp in early August, wearing a walking boot between workouts.
However, toward the end of camp, things started to get painful for the reigning World Cup sprint champion. She realized that what she was doing – training normally and keeping pressure off her right foot when she wasn’t skiing – wasn’t enough. USST women’s coach Matt Whitcomb convinced her to see a specialist and let it heal before this winter.
About two weeks ago, Randall flew south to see Dr. Tom Clanton at The Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colo. A world-renowned foot and ankle specialist, Dr. Clanton treated former professional basketball player, Yao Ming, the tallest man in the NBA at the time, when he had foot trouble. “We figured he was a good guy to talk to,” Randall said.
There, an MRI showed some fluid around the bone in her right foot, which meant it was starting to weaken, but it didn’t indicate a fracture. That was a good thing, Randall said. The doctor advised she train at a 50-percent effort for five weeks, which meant no skiing or running, but she could swim, bike and do double-pole workouts with APU.
Randall is also healing an Achilles injury in her left foot, which started early last March at the World Cup skiathlon in Lahti, Finland.
“The boots are a little bit different than what we’re used to and it didn’t get better through the spring,” she said. “We had a lot of classic races the last part of the season and I didn’t probably rest it enough, so it’s been nagging.”
While in Vail, physical therapists at Howard Head Sports Medicine taught her strengthening exercises for both feet, and she planned to return to Colorado in early October for a follow-up MRI. After that, she will head to Park City, where she probably won’t participate in the USST tests, but hopes to take advantage of the high altitude and transition back into regular training.
“The frustrating thing with both these injuries is they’re so subtle I can train through them, but it’s a matter of should I train through them,” Randall said. “Eventually the Achilles could get worse and you can get into some serious problems with that, and of course with bone fractures, that could be a serious problem, too. It’s the one time in your life when you have to not be tough and take signs and rest a little bit.”
Since discovering a massive blood clot in her leg in April 2008, Randall hasn’t had too many medical problems, she said.
“I’ve been really fortunate through my career,” she said. “The blood clot happened in the spring when it was the absolute best time when I was taking some time off anyway. I was able to bounce back [and win a World Championship]. This is almost my first time going through something kind of chronic and in the middle of the season. I had a few things when I was in high school but nothing quite like this.”
Still, she’s managed to keep her head up.
“I’m enjoying being at home for an entire month and I have a little extra time. I have a ton of school visits lined up and get to work on some of my community projects and see family and friends before the long winter in Europe,” she said. “Just fill your time with other thoughts and things. I’m focusing on what I can do and I’m using this time to work on some small weaknesses that I probably would’ve just let go. So, yeah, it might be a blessing in disguise in the end.”
In mid-August, Randall did an open-water swim in Ontario, Canada, where Ellis’ parents live. Her husband originally signed them both up for the Bala Falls Triathlon, but Randall decided she shouldn’t run so Ellis left her wetsuit at home in Anchorage.
Race fever caught up with Randall, and she changed her mind – she wanted to swim and bike. Without a wetsuit, she swam anyways and finished third in the swim-bike category.
“It was my first time [competing without a wetsuit]. It was a good, challenging experience,” she said. “It was pretty funny because I had the boot on, and I walk into the transition area to put my bike in the rack. Then I walk around the rest of the day, I’ve got the numbers on my arm with the boot on. It looked pretty ridiculous, I’m sure.”
If she wants to be a serious triathlete someday, Randall joked that she needs to work on her swimming.
“The bike was fun, kind of chasing after people,” she added. “It was actually quite hard not to go out on the run and finish off the race.”
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.