The pre-race flurry of ski racers running about wax trailers and tents.
The tell-tale countdown beep indicating racers already on course.
The nagging notion that this race will be just like the last: not terrible, but not the desired outcome.
How does one put these distractions to rest, and instead, focus on the present?
That’s how Erika Flowers — the overall winner of the SuperTour women’s 10-kilometer classic individual start this past Sunday in Craftsbury, Vt. — started the past two weekend’s of racing. How she finished them was a different story.
“As a skier you set big goals and throw everything you have at them and sometimes you reach them but the truth is that sometimes you don’t,” Flowers of the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) T2 Team wrote in an email. “I didn’t have great races last weekend [in Lake Placid] but my goal never changed — I still wanted to win!”
After finishing some of her earlier races this season still hungry for more, Flowers explained that she entered the Craftsbury SuperTour weekend with the goal of “staying focused,” which left her bound and determined to summon a victory.
“I think finding ways to put racing in perspective and enjoy it is the biggest ‘secret weapon’ out there. I’m obviously not always happy with my results or a specific training session but sometimes you have to fake it until you make it,” she wrote.
Reinforced by Saturday’s 5 k freestyle podium — and, according to Flowers, a little post-race cheesecake and a lot of water — Sunday found her fueled and raring to go.
“I started fast and as soon as I saw Anne [Hart] ahead of me I was on a mission to catch her,” Flowers wrote of her teammate, who won the 5 k the day before. “She was also great today — she heard splits that I was in the hunt for the win and really pushed me the last two laps.
“She started charging and basically tracking people and clearing traffic in front of me. That’s an awesome teammate right there,” Flowers added.
With a cleared set of classic tracks ahead of her, Flowers cruised around the 4 x 2.5 k course to finish in 27:19.6, about seven seconds ahead of second place, for her first SuperTour win.
“Today was my first SuperTour win ever and it feels so good!” she wrote.
Flowers found both focus and perspective on Sunday not only from within herself, but others competing on course as well.
“This is the best job in the world and we are pretty lucky to get to do it everyday. I was also completely inspired by one of my friends who recently lost his dad but had a smile on his face all weekend, just happy to have the opportunity to ski and race. That is perspective if you need some,” she wrote.
“I think finding ways to put racing in perspective and enjoy it is the biggest ‘secret weapon’ out there.” — Erika Flowers, Craftsbury SuperTour 10 k classic winner
Two other new faces, at least to this year’s SuperTour podium, were Craftsbury’s own Liz Guiney (Craftsbury Green Racing Project) and Stratton’s Julia Kern, a U.S. Ski Team D-team member.
Kern and Guiney both finished 7.4 seconds off of Flowers’ time in a tie for second.
“Racing at home is always great, can’t beat sleeping in your own bed!” wrote Guiney, who not only celebrated a second-place finish, but her 25th birthday on Sunday.
With her mother, stepfather, and Craftsbury GRP Head Coach Pepa Miloucheva out cheering on course, along with plenty of skiers around her during the race, Guiney kept her focus.
“There were probably around 100 racers on the loop at once between the college skiers, elite skiers, and juniors, and it almost felt like a mass start at times,” Guiney wrote. “I started out 15 seconds behind Rosie Frankowski from APU who was double poling on skate skis.”
Though a few other women chose to double pole the course on skate skis, Guiney opted for classic skis. She and Frankowski raced the rest of the course together.
“It was great having some back and forth where I would get ahead on the uphills and then she would catch up on the flats, and I think forced me to push harder than I might have if I were on my own,” she added.
It wasn’t until she and Frankowski crossed the finish line together, that Guiney realized she was tied for second place.
“On the last hill my coach Pepa told me I had to go for it, and it wasn’t until I crossed the line that I figured out I had tied for 2nd,” she wrote.
Kern, who shared the second step on the podium, also chose to race on classic skis.
“I am very glad I was on classic skis because I had perfect kick and glide, thanks to our great wax techs,” she wrote.
A course with minimal striding and maximal transitions, Craftsbury’s 10 k classic course played to Kern’s strength: indefatigable double poling.
“One of my strengths is the ability to ‘muscle through it’, so my double pole felt pretty strong today,” she wrote. “I also would say I am pretty experienced with transitions since I grew up skiing on the Weston Ski Track golf course [outside of Boston], which has a lot of turns and flatter terrain.”
Despite not classic skiing since last Sunday’s 10 k in Lake Placid due to New England’s “lack of snow, tricky waxing conditions,” Kern found her body responding well during Sunday’s classic race.
“My body felt surprisingly good today. I felt pretty strong in the arms for the double pole section and my legs felt pretty springy,” she wrote.
Even so, Kern did not leave the day unchallenged, earning her spot with the top podium contenders.
“One of the challenges for me today was the lack of rest. The course is very much a steady output course with no long downhills to recover. I had to pick spots where I would tuck a little longer than I should so I could catch my breath,” she wrote.
After the two second-place finishers, Chelsea Holmes of Alaska Pacific University (APU) crossed in fourth, 19.7 seconds back from Flowers.
“These past two weeks have been fun with great racing in the East!” Holmes wrote in an email.
After racing two weekends on the World Cup in Europe, Holmes described her transition back to the U.S. as going fairly well.
“Honestly the jet lag was a little harder coming back than going, but I think it all chalks up to plenty of racing combined with a quick trip with a big time change, basically it just caught up to me,” she wrote. “Other than that it’s been good, and I certainly am extremely glad that I had the opportunity to race the World Cup in Czech, I would have travelled to Europe just for that.”
Freeman Finds His Form in the 10 k Classic
Not many individuals know their own bodies better than athletes. Not many athletes know their bodies better than Sunday’s overall SuperTour winner in the men’s 10 k classic individual start, Kris Freeman.
In preparation for Sunday’s 10 k classic event, which he won in a time of 23:30.8, Freeman listened to what his body told him to do.
“I cooled down well after the skate race and stretched for about an hour before bed. I was still sore and tight this morning so I did some yoga this morning and warmed up for about and hour and half before the classic race,” he wrote in an email on Sunday.
“I wanted to be free of any twinges in my hamstrings and lower back because I knew I was going to double pole the race,” he added.
Though viewed by many as an athlete and a Type-1 diabetic, when it comes to racing, Freeman no longer distinguishes himself between the two.
“Diabetes is always a challenge to control. It is impossible to know how much of a role it plays when things go bad so I no longer try to separate it from my training and performance,” he wrote. “When I am rested and feeling good my glucose is more stable and I ski well. When I am tired and ragged the opposite happens.”
Thus, he entered Sunday as an athlete ready to climb back to the top.
“I really wanted to hit the early season in great shape. Instead I exhausted myself before the season even started. I have been working on rebuilding since US Nationals,” he explained.
However, he made the right call on Sunday, and double poled to first overall in the 10 k. Last month, Freeman also double poled to a victory in a 30 k classic marathon, the White Mountain Classic in Jackson, N.H., beating Tad Elliott by 1 second.
Finishing 6.6 seconds after Freeman was University of Vermont (UVM) skier Cole Morgan.
Morgan, currently a senior at UVM, also chose to double pole Sunday’s SuperTour course in Craftsbury.
“This course is kind of a perfect opportunity for me. I’m usually strong in short, flat classic races with a lot of double pole and today was just that,” Morgan wrote in an email.
With not much time to work into the race, Morgan wasted no time getting out from the start.
“My tactic today was to start fairly hard and try to build throughout the race. There’s not much time to ease into it when it’s such a fast course,” he wrote.
While Morgan was the first UVM skier on Sunday’s men’s SuperTour podium, as well as the first college skier in the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association (EISA) race, UVM recorded another podium finish with Norwegian Jørgen Grav finishing third, 10.7 seconds back from Freeman.
“Extremely fun to have Cole up there on the podium with me in his first career college win, he has worked incredibly hard for that and there is no one who deserves it more,” Grav wrote in an email.
Deciding to double pole for the first time and starting 15 seconds ahead of Freeman, Grav found his hours spent double poling in the summer all worthwhile.
“Since the course was so flat most people decided to double pole it. Super fun to try that for my first time and since Freeman started only 15 seconds behind me I got a pretty good ride with him for a lap,” Grav wrote.
“I did focus more on DP this summer and it looks like that paid off!” he added.
With the conclusion of the season’s fourth SuperTour event, many SuperTour racers’ paths diverge for a bit, some heading home for volume training.
“Despite the poor New England winter, Waterville Valley has had skiable snow since I have been home. I always enjoy putting in volume training there and I have responded well to it so far,” Freeman wrote.
Even though low snow presently plagues much of the east coast, most racers remained grateful to the volunteers and race crew and all they did in hosting the SuperTour event.
“Craftsbury has done an amazing job with the course out here, pulling off some amazing trails in spite of nature’s refusal to cooperate,” Holmes wrote.
Gabby Naranja considers herself a true Mainer, having grown up in the northern most part of the state playing hockey and roofing houses with her five brothers. She graduated from Bates College where she ran cross-country, track, and nordic skied. She spent this past winter in Europe and is currently in Montana enjoying all that the U.S. northwest has to offer.