This last camp was one of the shorter overseas trips I’ve had in quite a while, but we made our time count. We flew over to Germany on the 23rd for just 11 training days. Our coaches designed the camp with a dual focus on high quality jumping and high intensity cross country training. In this short block, we packed in 7 jump sessions, three strength/plyometric sessions, 6 interval workouts on rollerskis, 2 races, and 2 level 1 runs.
Oberstdorf is one of the best places to be this time of year, particularly because they turn on their refrigeration system on the inruns and ice over the track. Despite landing on plastic, we get half the feelings of winter jumping with the smooth, ice track before launching. There’s also a challenging roller ski course just outside of town, where we spent most of our afternoons.
These sessions were our last before we wait for snow to fly, so it was important to dial things in and cement the improvements we’ve been working on all summer. Ideally, by this time of year we’re not making big changes, just fine tuning and setting a good level before the season. However, I went into this camp with some work to do, but I was able to make some big changes throughout the week.
A big part of my ability to make positive changes this trip was an increased focus on the flight phase of my jump. Throughout this summer, my takeoff has gotten fairly consistent. Although sometimes lacking in power or perfect timing, my technique is generally close enough to where I should be able to fly. I came to realize that working to get into an effective flight position is going to be the most beneficial thing that I can do.
Jan Matura, our newest coach, was instrumental in helping me make these changes. Jan came on this summer, primarily to build and alter our jump suits, but he’s stepped into more of an all-around coaching role. Jan just finished up a very successful 15-year career as a ski jumper for the Czech Republic. He’s got a couple World Cup wins under his belt, and has been to four out of the last five Olympics – dating back to Nagano (’98) in his days as a Nordic Combined skier! Add in that his cousin, Tomas, has been working with our team for five years now (first as a wax-tech, now as a coach), and Jan is a perfect fit for us. Jan shared his experience and knowledge from the ski jumping circuit to provide new insights for the entire team. He meshes great with our other coaches, Tomas Martin and Martin Bayer. It felt like they have been a team for ages.
The biggest challenge of this trip was managing the heavy cross country load. We jumped nearly every morning and then hammered out intervals in the afternoon, ranging from 8 x 5 minutes near race pace to 10 x 1 minutes at maximal effort. Whether long and grueling or short and sharp, all our sessions on rollerskis were demanding! Our coaches threw in two races, one in traditional Nordic Combined format off a jumping competition, and another, our last workout of the trip, a mass start. It’s one thing to manage this training load as an endurance athlete, but the real key is to be able to stay fresh, or at least ignore tired legs and still make improvements on the jump.
Amazingly, our whole team seemed to be having better and better sessions as the camp went on. It wasn’t until the last day of jumping when all our bodies seemed to give in. We were hoping to end the trip with a rad session of only far jumps, but tougher conditions and tired legs made things a little more difficult. It was almost uncanny the way we all felt the fatigue, like we had held it at bay until the last minute, and could do no more now. That said, I can still jump with less than 100% strength, and it’s actually an important skill to have in the competition season. It just takes some willingness to acknowledge and accept how my body feels and then focus on what I’m working on.
Packing in this much training, especially while trying to focus on jumping and high intensity cross country training, was definitely a risk. Obviously, jumping at a higher level is the priority for most of our team, but we needed to include this block of training for cross country as a part of our pre-season prep. We didn’t have time or energy for much besides eating, training, technique analysis and sleeping – the true athlete life. This kind of focus is what it takes to maximize training benefit.
We stayed in apartments, rather than a hotel with a meal plan, which ends up being a bit more work but is far more cost effective. Our coaches helped with doing most of the grocery shopping and the cooking. Normally, I’m all for helping in the kitchen, but this trip is was nice to recover after training while the coaches worked on dinner. Tomas was head chef, whipping up some killer meals every night.
Small German towns like the one we stayed in outside of Oberstdorf offer little in the form of distractions. We did indulge in celebrating Halloween, with some candy to share and a horror movie night. Next year, maybe we’ll come prepared with costumes to wear on the jump. (Nick Mattoon showed us up in this department, jumping with a shark suit back in Park City).
As usual, the trip ended with a shuffle of gear. We needed to organize for what we were leaving over in Europe for the winter, skis to get stone-ground in Germany, tools and wax in the appropriate vans, and our own duffels packed for the trip home. There's no way to travel light when you have gear for two sports.
Now we're back in Park City, continuing to prepare for winter and hoping for snow and cold temperatures. Taylor, Bryan and Ben Berend are heading back overseas in just over a week. They'll compete in the opening World Cup in Ruka, Finland. I'll be back in Europe in 30 days to start my season on World Cup in Ramsau, Austria. In the meantime, some of us will be racing against cross country skiers in West Yellowstone over Thanksgiving weekend. Following that, we'll have Winter Start, a prep competition in Steamboat Springs. I'll keep you updated on how the early season goes!
After a little time back in Park City, and a short break before getting back on the jump hill, I’ve realized that I was ready for a reset. I’m not one to struggle with homesickness or dread travel. But after a point, everyone needs some time to reset.
My desire to sit down and write is usually pretty low after disappointing results. I don’t want to spend my time dwelling on mistakes, as if writing makes the past more real than moving on. However, as I share my journey with readers here, it’s not fair to anyone or the sport to stick to the highs and ignore the lows.
As a whole, I had a fantastic summer and fall training block overseas. If you read my earlier posts, you’ll know that we had some of the best training opportunities we could ask for, as well as some good competitions. I was able to score Grand Prix Points at the end of August, and hoped to build upon that result in the next competition opportunities.
Our final weekend in Slovenia was spent competing in the last leg of the Grand Prix circuit in Planica. It was as close to a home competition as we’ll get outside of Park City or Steamboat. However, it doesn’t matter how well you know a hill if you can’t find the rhythm and jump with confidence on a given day. Due to my results on Saturday’s event, I sat out on Sunday and cheered on my teammates. Forced spectating is always a bittersweet experience. On one hand, its much less stressful than competing, but I almost immediately miss the opportunity to lay it all out on the line and see where I stack up.
After Planica’s competitions, we finally headed stateside – for a short competition week in Lake Placid before continuing on to Park City. The primary focus of Lake Placid was on US Nationals Championships – held on Sunday on the 1980’s Olympic 90-meter jump.
Although I’ve had good results in Placid in the past, this time didn’t meet all my hopes and dreams. It started as a shock to adjust to the new hill and ended in a rut of struggling from painfully low speeds. Our Nationals are held with the ski jumpers, against the best special jumpers in the U.S. Over the past couple years, these guys have made huge progress. It’s been exciting to watch, but it’s not so fun to jump from their gates. You'll understand if try as hard as you can to hit a golf ball further than you’re usually capable of without your handicap and into a stiff wind. That golf swing won’t get any better until you take a step away and come back later, with a relaxed grip, no expectations, and a 1000 less thoughts racing through your mind. Those easy strokes that you’ll soon be hitting are what create confidence which you can build upon. But as soon as you trying with all your might again, it’s going to get tough.
Come racetime, I had already been agonizing all weekend with embarrassingly short jumps. If you were there, you wouldn’t have seen strong showings of emotions from me. I tried to keep it inside, but was numb with disappointment after competing. I knew after the jumping that I had almost no shot at a spot on the US Championship podium.
If you think that a 10km race is the painful part of Nordic Combined, let me tell you something. A race is quick, compartmentalized pain, and on the right day it's even fun. The feeling of failure is far more lasting. As twisted as this sounds, I used this perspective as motivation for the Championship race. 25 minutes of racing, how bad can that really be? Compared to falling short of my goals and performing well below potential, this pain would be manageable. Yes, racing hurts, buts its acute and short-lived – far better than dull, lingering pain of failure.
I wanted to feel something real, to know again that I was tough, determined and in control. I needed this desire to have a chance at a decent race. Starting in 12th place, I had to live out the consequences of my jumping, but forget the morning at the same time. My best races are almost always when I jump into the mix, and racing is fun and adrenaline packed. When I’m so excited from jumping that I hardly need a warmup, my body’s just amped, that’s when it’s easy to race. But when you go back to a hotel room after jumping and stare at a wall for lack of ability to do anything else, lunch is tasteless and nerves are a foreign concept, that’s when racing is tough. How are you going to race fast if you’re not proud?
A simple answer is mental toughness. But to me, it’s more than this. It’s desire. Perhaps they are one-and-the-same, but to switch from disappointment to intense motivation takes a desire to be great, no matter what. On Sunday, I tapped into this. I flipped this dial in the course of my warmup, minutes before the race. Headphones in, jaw set, I decided I would be able to give it my all in this race.
The Championship podium was out of reach, and I was lucky to finish in fifth. After the race, my perspective of pain was still off. I hardly remembered the race hurting, but I know it did. I know that I gave it everything I had, which was all the redemption that I needed.
Redeemed or not, I was still feeling disappointed. Yes, I was impressed with Bryan’s winning performance, and proud of Ben and Jasper standing on their first National podium. But I was still feeling pretty gloomy. It takes time to reset after a couple tough competitions, a few days off from jumping and training on familiar grounds.
That’s exactly what I got. I had a day layover in Chicago for a USA Nordic fundraiser in partnership with Lagunitas. After that, I was finally back in Park City for the first time since early August. Few things beat the temperature swings of fall in the mountains, when crisp and cold mornings rapidly morph into warm, sunny afternoons. We kept the week after Nationals pretty easy – mostly training once a day rather than our usual twice a day. On the first Saturday back, a blanket of snow fell overnight, preventing our planned jump session. I think I still needed some time away from the hill, so I wasn’t too bummed out.
We spent this last weekend in Steamboat Springs, CO. Our entire team made it over for the third annual Oktoberfest fundraiser. A few dedicated parents put in some serious work to make this happen, and the support of the Steamboat community never ceases to make it worthwhile.
We didn’t break out our jumps skis while we were in the Boat, but we came out to show some support for the younger Park City and Steamboat kids jumping on the 70 and 40 meter. I don’t have the skills of their coaches, but I enjoy stepping in to motivate the next generation. I know how important it is for the youngsters to have the “big guys” to look up to, and the relationship goes both ways. We all enjoy the refreshing attitudes and joy of a little kid on a big ski jump.
In fact, these kids were so motivated to jump that they had no hesitation clearing the fresh snow off the jump before the session. Actually, I think they had as much fun doing this as anything.
Feeling rested, centered and focused, I’m ready to head back to Europe now for one last important training camp. Tomorrow (Monday) we’ll be en route to Oberstdorf, Germany, for a two-week block of high quality training. Oberstdorf is one of the few hills open at this time of year, and it has the significant benefit of a running ice track. We’ll get half the feelings of winter here, jumping from a refrigerated inrun but landing on traditional plastic. I'm looking forward to showing my coaches and I that I’m ready for winter here. By the time we return from this camp, I should have a better idea of where and when I’ll be starting the season. For now, it’s a bit up in the air, so there’s nothing I can do but hold my head up and keep plugging away.
Thank you for reading, and for the continual support. I’ve been really amazed with the community support this fall in my Rally Me campaign. I still have two weeks left to meet my goal, and we just made it over the halfway mark. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out the page by clicking below. Again, thank you all so much for the support! I can promise to pay it forward!
One more thing... I should have time to keep blogging this season more than usual as I just finished up my last course with DeVry University! I'm feeling pretty fortunate to have undertaken this work while continuing to compete. As soon as the diploma comes in the mail, I'll officially have an B.S. in Business Administration. Maybe I'll keep busy this winter studying for the GRE!
This last week, we packed up from Planica and drove to Ramsau, Austria. The beauty of living in Europe with a home base is that we can easily get to new places for camps without feeling the drag of continually being on the road. Ramsau checks all the boxes for a perfect camp. First off, it’s an easy two hours from Planica, and we can train on the K90 where we’ll compete in December for the World Cup and then drive 40 minutes to jump the large hill in Bischofshofen.
We also stopped at the Atomic factory on the way in Altenmarket, just before heading up the mountainside to Ramsau. Our whole team is on Atomic cross country skis now, so we picked up some new skis to test and discussed what we needed before the winter. It’s pretty convenient to be able to just pop in to the European headquarters like that.
In addition to jumping, one objective was to get up on the Dachstein glacier, which is open for skiing almost year-round. (This year it was closed for much of July, a trend which is likely to only be increasing). I’ve probably been to Ramsau a dozen times now, but the view of the enormous Dachstein mountain towering above town never ceases to amaze me. Surprisingly, in all my times there, I’d never been up to the glacier.
Before we got up to ski, we had three days to focus on jumping. After a session in Ramsau, we drove to Bischofshofen the next two mornings. Bisch is a special hill, probably the most unique of any jump I’ve been on. The inrun is incredibly flat and long before it eventually ends in a 5-meter-high takeoff. It was fun to get some flying time here, and helpful to jump a completely different profile hill than the ones in Planica.
Check out the sweet video that Nathaniel Mah made from our first couple days in Ramsau.
The skiing on the Dachstein is just under 9000 feet above sea level, much too high to try to get a quality, high-speed intervals session in. We endured another long rollerski in the rain for our intensity session before shifting the focus to easy distance training. It was the kind of session that we dreaded all day as the rain poured down with no sign of a break in the weather. But once we got our bodies warmed up and safely navigated a few corners on the rollerski track, it turned out to be not all that bad. Asides from some skiing between our hotel and the track, we did our best to stay off the roads, where, believe it or not, its verboten to rollerski. This rule always shocks me in such a Nordic mecca – proud home of the 1999 World Championships, annual World Cups and a ski marathon. I’ve been lucky so far, but apparently there’s one cop in town that send you walking home and even give out tickets if he’s particularly irritated. Fortunately, the rollerski track is one of the better ones around, as long as you don’t overcook any of the tight corners. (Knock on wood, I haven’t joined that club here either).
The upside of rain in town was that we were confident in snow up high. In fact, the snowline nearly reached town on Wednesday morning. The following day, when we finally stepped out of the tram at the top of the Dachstein, we met Father Winter in all his glory. It was nearly white-out conditions and so windy that I’m not sure how much snow was actually falling from the sky or just being swept around from the gusting wind. A few of us took a mistaken lap on the walking trail before finding the skiing loop. After 15 minutes of only being able to see from pole to pole, and sometimes struggling to just stay on the groomed trail, we started to wonder why no one else seemed to be out there. Then again, we couldn’t see far enough to know, so we kept on that loop before reevaluating at the start and finding the rest of the skiers.
The Dachstein is a popular training grounds for cross country skiers, biathletes and Nordic combiners from all over. Other teams included a club from Thunder Bay, Estonians, Czech biathletes, Koreans, a Japanese para-athlete, and of course Austrians and ski technicians. We chatted with the Canadians, who were starting a three-week training camp up there, but otherwise most people tend to stick to themselves and their training priorities. After 2 or 3 hours of skiing, we load back into a tram, mixing skiers with the German-speaking tourists who came for the views and apfelstrudel at the tram station restaurant.
The weather and skiing improved each day on the Dachstein. On Friday, it’s not quite sunny, but we’re able to take in the phenomenal views and get a much better idea of our surroundings. On Saturday, we’re back to jumping in Ramsau on a beautiful shorts-and-t-shirt kind of day. By Sunday, for our third and final ski on the glacier, there’s enough skiing groomed that I barely repeat loops for a two-hour ski.
More images from the Dachstein in the slideshow below.
To end the camp, the Fichtenheim cooks treat us with Kaiserschmarrn – fluffy, eggy pancakes, shredded and served with powdered sugar and apple sauce (literally Emperor’s mess). We ate well and trained hard all week, so I don’t feel too guilty as I finish off my plate and serve up seconds. The Austrians certainly know that there’s no better way to make a guest want to come back again than serving this up as their last meal.
Now we’re already unpacked back at our apartments in Planica. We’re able to settle back in quickly and it feels just like home again. This weekend we have the final two days of Summer Grand Prix competitions. Planica is a new addition to the tour, and after a month-long break in the competitions, everyone is eager to get back at it here. Stay posted on Facebook for results and news from the competitions!
Before I go, I want to share my fundraising campaign on Rally Me. I already owe a huge thank you to the incredible donors who have already supported me since I started the fundraiser just last week! I am really amazed at how quickly people have stepped in. I couldn’t do it without this community supporting me! If you’d like to help out, check out my page below. Your support will help cover some of the costs necessary to train, compete and be equipped for this season. Also, be sure to watch the super cool video that Nathaniel Mah made at the page!
I’m back in Planica, Slovenia, where I last wrote from. Since then, I spent some time in Stams, Austria and Oberstdorf, Germany, training and competing.
After training in Stams with the younger crew from our team – Ben Loomis, Grant Andres and Stephen Schumann – and some of the junior development athletes, I headed to Oberstdorf for a start in the Summer Grand Prix. Stams, just outside of Innbruck, is over the beautiful Fernpass from Oberstdorf, nestled in the Bavarian Alps. I had the unique opportunity to jump in both Austria and Germany the day before competing – training in Stams, then fore-jumping in the first day of Grand Prix in Oberstdorf. I don’t know about you, but I thought that was pretty cool.
In Oberstdorf, I was eager to get back into the mix of competing. I put down a good enough jump in a tough jumping competition to be in the fight for points. Unfortunately, I was also the only one of my teammates to race, after Ben Berend and Taylor Fletcher were disqualified and Bryan opted to rest his irritated knee, but I used this as extra motivation to represent us well. The race, which started at 8:30 pm, was an exciting 6 laps around the dark city streets below the jump stadium. Having not raced in a pack in 6 months, it was quite a shock to the system to be in a massive group of athletes fighting for points and struggling to hang on with the fastest skiers. I didn’t feel immediately comfortable in the group, and to be honest, its not my favorite race course, but I enjoyed the moment and knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity. Spurred on by a huge cheering section, I managed to finish in 28th, nabbing my first high-level points in two years. Despite all the German fans and European coaches, it almost felt like a home race with coaches, most of my teammates and a squad of juniors and Youth Cup competitors from the US cheering me on. I definitely used their excitement and encouragement to dig deeper than I could have otherwise.
If you’ve been following our social media since Grand Prix, you probably think that we’re part time mountain climbers. I can assure you that we’re working hard on the jumps, in the gym and on our rollerskis, but we have taken advantage of our surroundings more than ever these past few weeks. The day after racing in Oberstdorf, we hiked the nearby Nebelhorn peak, which has a tram servicing the resort running full time. Knowing that we had a solid recovery week ahead and wanting an extra challenge, I opted to run down rather than take the tram. I wouldn’t recommend this option if you want to be able to walk normal the next few days, but now I know that it is possible to descend on foot faster than the three-part tram ride. If you didn't see it already, check out the movie I made with pictures and the fly-through from my GPS watch.
Back in Slovenia, we’ve been exploring the mountains here as well on our distance workouts.
Last weekend, my teammates Grant, Ben, Jasper and I stood atop Triglav, the tallest mountain in Slovenia. We ascended the 2000 vetical meters from the valley floor in thick fog and occasional rain and gusting winds on the final ridgeline to summit. Most of the other hikers out there were decked out with heavy rain gear, packs for overnighting in the surrounding mountain huts, and Via Ferrata safety gear. (Via ferrata equipment allows users to clip into to fixed cables along non-technical but admittedly hairy sections of the trail). On the descent, as the fog cleared and we could see the sheer cliffs falling all the way to the valley below, we understood the rational for their equipment as necessary for anyone with a moderate fear of heights. We were able to travel light, with just our small packs, knowing that there was a mountain “hut” below the summit, where we stopped to warm-up and refuel with coffee, crepes and water for our packs. After around 5.5 hours on the trail, we jogged into the trailhead where we began, feeling surprisingly fresh and immensely satisfied. Now, we've been told that we should apply for Slovenian citizenship, as apparently summiting Triglav is what it takes to be considered a "real" Slovenian.
Below is a gallery from Triglav, and a video that Jasper made similar to my Nebelhorn one.
Since last weekend, it’s been cool and raining more or less non-stop, which isn’t ideal for jumping and particularly pleasant for rollerskiing, but we really can’t complain. For one, the wreckage left by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have provided a good dose of perspective. We're lucky to not be affected by the weather for any longer than the amount of time we spend out in it. In addition, we always have the ski tunnel here to ski in. It can be mind-numbing to spin 30 - 50 laps around the underground loop, but it’s awesome to be training on snow and a savior when its 40 degrees and raining.
We also lucked out with mostly dry conditions for our grueling intensity session this week: 8 x 10 minutes intervals at steady state. In total, it takes nearly 3 hours and we covered over 47 km in this single workout. Our coach was there to test our blood lactates with a portable machine, and each test gave us the "good" news that we could keep pushing harder, as we were still within our zone. Despite popular belief, training at low elevation isn't necessarily easier, as we are just able to push harder with the increased oxygen density.
I’ve been working hard on the jumps, knowing that this is where my biggest improvements can be made. All of our team is making great strides on the hills here. Ultimately, the best part about training in Slovenia is the jump facilities. It’s really important for us to jump on modern, low-elevation hills in Europe, and to get on a variety of different jumps. That’s really the only way to get prepared for the World Cup tour where you compete on a new hill every weekend.
Here’s a quick video I made of jumping in Kranj and Planica with my GoPro a couple weeks ago.
Thanks for all the support that allows me to be here. Next week, we'll go to Ramsau, Austria, to jump at two different venues and ski on the Dachstein glacier. Stay tuned for updates, and in the coming days you might be hearing from me asking for your support. Thank you for being a part of the team!
Where am I?