I wrote this a few days ago while I was cruising on a passenger train through Germany... It’s been a matter of minutes since we left the highlands and damn if I don’t already miss the Alps. I’m heading back to Utah from Munich tomorrow. As much I have grown to love the Wasatch and Rockies, something about these mountains is magical. I haven’t been anywhere else where the glacial valleys, quaint towns, jagged peaks, stark slide paths and endless views can compare.
I spent the week in Switzerland, first in Davos, then in St. Moritz for the weekend. Last Tuesday, I came over from Planica, Slovenia by train: past Bad Gastein, Kietzbühel, Innsbruck, St. Anton, and many more iconic Alpen towns. In Davos, I stayed with Jon Shafer (aka Fast Big Dog aka FBD) and a very welcoming local, Maurus Kehl.
Maurus took us into his home, a new flat in Davos Platz, without having met me, but Jon has got to know him well over years of business and ski trips to Davos. We hardly saw Maurus, who runs a restaurant at the top of one of the area ski resorts. Like most other restaurateurs, he works tirelessly. Some nights, he sleeps up in the rooms above the restaurant.
On Thursday, we took the two-part tram up the resort for a lunch up at his restaurant, the Sun Peak. I had a “Colorado” buffalo burger with mushrooms that he picked in the fall down the valley. Maurus also happens to be a huge hockey fan. He’s lived in Canada and cheers for the Avalanche, in addition to the Davos Club. The Sun Peak’s menu reflects his North American travels, but with a distinct flair of local harvests and traditions. Combined with the stunning panoramic views, this was an unforgettable lunch. No need for white linen, expensive wine and black-tie servers for a “fine dining" experience.
After a few days of world-class cross-country skiing in Davos, Jon and I were ready for the main event of the week: the Engadin Ski Marathon. We took the train over Saturday morning, with time for a short mid-day ski and logistical preparation for the big race on Sunday. Our World Cup Atomic representative put me in touch with the Swiss Atomic crew, who hooked me up with some killer race skis. I was surprised to see my new contact here, Kevin, was actually a year younger than me, but he certainly knew what he was doing. He was right about my weight, and already had tested skis to select the best pair for me, and then finished the prep with many coats of high flour wax, powders, and an all-important top structure for the base. Without this help, I wouldn’t have stood a chance of competing in this field.
Four-time Olympic champion Dario Cologna often enters, and usually wins this race, but he was busy winning the Holmenkollen 50km in Oslo on Saturday. His absence may have disappointed the Swiss, but it didn’t do too much to diminish the level of the field. The World Loppet is filled with competitive World Cup athletes and professional teams that operate like pro-cycling teams. Sprint World Champion Federico Pellegrino (ITA) was rumored to be showing up. The organizers apparently had bib 1 reserved for him, but on Sunday morning a new big name had the first bib – Peter Northug. Northug is no longer the "king of skiing;" the 18 time World Championship gold medalist hasn’t been a force on the World Cup in two years, but he’s still a wild card with an amazing finish. And I was pretty psyched to toe the start line against a guy like Northug.
Race morning begins with a 5:45 wake-up for an early breakfast: a bowl of Bircher muesli (Swiss overnight oats) and a soft-boiled egg. Shortly thereafter, we load onto a fully packed bus heading directly towards the start. With 15,000 racers and limited parking at the start-line, this was a good time to be in the hands of Swiss public transportation. They must have some sort of call to arms to bring in enough buses to the region for this weekend.
In the Elite wave there’s “only” 150 men and around 50 women starting together. We had the luxury of being able to place our skis in line in the pen, first come first serve. Our wave would go out first. In the groups behind us a race before the race ensued. Clad in throwaway ponchos, old clothes or shivering in nothing but spandex, hundreds of jittery racers were already fighting for their start line spot when we arrived one hour before the start.
15 minutes before the start, I shed my wet warmup clothes and handed my race bag to the Swiss Army workers loading up trucks to be sent to the finish line. I pulled on my homemade raincoat – two heavy duty trash bags cut like a poncho with a skirt. It was still raining, and I kept this on until minutes before the race. In the start pen, I had just a few minutes to stay warm and loose before the gun would be off, which is exactly how I like it. I didn’t envy the thousands behind us in their respective waves, many having stood for over an hour in the sleet and wind for a better starting position.
Three minutes to go, I clicked on my skis for the first time that morning. This was a twist on my normal routine, but I’m comfortable running for a warmup, and equally confident that I didn’t need much of a warmup before 42km of racing. I was near the front, but they added an additional front line, the big names and Loppet leaders. Andy Newell, one of America's best sprinters for the past decade-plus, stood on this line, distinct in his US Olympic race suit. This would be his first Engadin as well, and I was curious to see if I could ski with him at all. I looked around for other racers I knew: a few by name, my Atomic buddy, two kids from Kranjska Gora, Slovenia who I met the day before but had certainly seen out on the trails and in the ski tunnel in the Planica area. I didn’t look at my heart rate before the start, but I’m sure it was higher than at any other start this year with the exception of Olympic Trials. It’s a different feeling starting a race on a new course, point-to-point, of a new distance, against new racers, my first true ski marathon, compared to knowing every meter of course on a 2.5km NC loop.
With a gun shot, the frenzy was on. Like most mass start races, there was a mandatory double pole zone from the start, but it was unclear where it ended, and some risk-takers began skating as soon as possible. The over-zealous quickly caught poles and tips and found their way to the ground, as the rest of us pushed forward, vying for positions and flying onward at high speed. It reminded me of the thrill of criterion bike racing: tightly packed, too many wide to count, constant chaos and hyper-attention – only with poles and less likelihood of bodily harm upon crashing. Early on, I spotted the women’s World Loppet leader in a yellow bib. That’s probably a good one to follow, she knows where to be and how to stay out of trouble. I skied right on her for couple minutes before a skier besides her went down, and tangled her up in the aftermath. I didn’t have a lot of room to roam, but stepped around her flailing in a pure-flow focus. So much for that wheel to ride.
The field gradually stretched out as the course narrowed and pushed past the first lake. My skis were running great. At one point I took a great line and found myself near the very front of the race. After just a moment of relaxing in this position I was quickly back another 20 or so spots. If you’re not passing people, you’re getting passed, moving backwards, another lesson from bike racing… and driving in traffic on the Autobahn.
When the first hills came we were already a quarter of the distance into the race, having covering 9 km in just 20 minutes. I knew that the course would narrow here, and set myself in a pretty good position, feeling good. Despite the incline, the pace hardly slowed down, and I had my first taste of real work. This wouldn’t be all about positioning and openfield technique, it was a ski race after all. My legs didn’t need much at this point to tell me that this wasn’t what they were used to. They seemed to say, “shouldn’t the race already be finished?”
The next 5 km would be the most defining of the race. We flew through the outskirts of St. Moritz and into the trees. The fresh, wet snow was slower, and the field seemed to be shattering into groups. I wanted to hang with the leaders, but there was still a lot of racing ahead. Near my limits, I figured I was in an okay group.
After these defining kilometers, a welcoming descent followed, and we found ourselves back into the wide, flat valley. This should have been a relief, but now I realized that the lead group was all together, close to 40 skiers, with the fastest pushing the pace at the front. In that group, I knew there were plenty enjoying the draft and conserving energy. In my much smaller chase group, we didn’t have that luxury. I took turns with a few other motivated skiers to pace our way forward. We took short, hard pulls in the lead, and then cycled back into the group, once again like bike racing. The lead pack was agonizingly close but catching them was more of a lost cause than we let ourselves admit. I could have saved more energy tucking in the back of this pack but enjoyed sharing the workload to keep our pace high.
A few punchy climbs defined the final kilometers, and eventually I paid for my earlier efforts. I hung tight to the pack, but most of my group surged past me in the final uphill meters. A final tight, technical downhill led into the finish straight. I still had some energy in my legs, but not enough speed or distance to move up the ranks. After 1 hour and 37 minutes of racing, I crossed the line in 52nd, 3:00 back from the winner. Before the race, having looked at previous results, I knew that top 100 wouldn’t be bad, and top 50 would probably be a really good race. All-in-all, it was a great race. It was certainly a fun time, and I finished ahead of a lot of guys who I didn’t know if I could beat. I also can claim the honor of being the top North American on the day. Next time (there surely will be another), I will know exactly what I’m getting into and hopefully will be battling with the leaders for the entire race.
This was my last race of the 2018 winter. It’s strange not to end with a Nordic Combined race. At this point, on normal years, I would be celebrating the end of a season and the beginning of a better one with my teammates and best friends from around the world. I certainly wasn’t alone, with Jon Shafer soon to finish, a few other friends from the US and new friends to be made in the finish line festivities. It was strange not to have my normal crew around me, but we managed to keep the stoke on high, sharing stories from our race and our lives beyond skis.
I owe a huge thank you to Jon Shafer for letting me join and taking such good care of me this trip. Additionally, I'm grateful for Atomic for providing speedy skis and service, all the volunteers who made the event happen, and the many racers I connected with over the weekend. I'm always amazed with how many old friends I run into on the other side of the world, and the new ones I make. It's a small world, after all.
To end this, if you're still crazy for more, here's a professionally made highlight video. If you want to do some recon for your future Engadin race, the entire stream of the event is also on YouTube. Thanks for reading, and, as we like to say, I'll see you out there.
I’ve had a busy few weeks, filled with travel, competitions, some hard moments and time for reflections. I thought I would try to fill you in a bit here.
Three weeks ago, the COC group and I flew down to Munich after competing in Rena, Norway. This was January 22nd, the day that the Olympic qualification period was officially over. I don’t want to make this post all about that, but not making the team definitely shaped my plans and thoughts over these past few weeks. That evening, Grant Andrews and I rented a car and drove into the night and rain to Ramsau, Austria, a little over two hours away from Munich.
Grant and I spent the week training by ourselves. The rest of the team was split between a pre-camp for World Juniors in Oberstdorf, Germany and preparing for the Olympics/ competing in Seefeld, Austria. It was probably best that we get away for that week – we wouldn’t have fit in with the stress and excitement of the guys heading off to the Championships. We arranged a couple sessions of jumping with the Polish team training in Ramsau. It’s a bit awkward – and this wasn’t my first time – walking up to a random coach and saying, “hey, want to be my coach for a while?”, but it also always seems to work out. In this community, “we’re one big family,” as the Poles so kindly demonstrated.
The cross-country trails are phenomenal in Ramsau, and we took full advantage of the chance for some nice easy cruising. I skied over 100km in a few days and hardly repeated the same loop. My prescription for fresh air and exercise in the mountains was well received. These days reminded me how much I love this sport, and how lucky I am to still be doing what I’m doing.
Ramsau is a ski-town where more tourists come to cross country ski than downhill. This might seem like a lot of work compared to the average person’s idea of a vacation, but these aerobic vacationers are far more relaxed than your typical Disney World/ Mall of America/ Times Square tourist.
Speaking of being a tourist, I actually spent a whole day off-skis in Salzburg with my parents before they went to Switzerland to watch my brother at World Junior Championships. They flew into Zurich on Friday, then fought off jet-lag and drove nearly all of the way to Salzburg so that we could have the following day in Salzburg. Clearly, their support for me is unwavering and limitless. Without it, I can’t imagine I’d be writing about these experiences now.
After Ramsau, the excitement level kicked up a notch with a trip to the World Cup in Hakuba, Japan. I flew over with Ben Berend, who got our fifth Olympic team spot upon its late announcement and would be heading to Korea from Japan. Clint Jones came from the US to coach us on his way to Pyeongchang. Clint works with both our team and the ski jumpers, usually just when we’re in the US, and it was awesome to have him on the road with us.
We partnered up with the Czech team for skis and waxing, continuing an alliance which is proving to be all around great. While we were in Japan, our World Cup technicians waxed for the Czech COC team in Planica, Slovenia, and the rest of the US/Czech crew worked together at World Juniors in Switzerland. We were super psyched to watch Ben bring in a bronze medal on the opening day, and the Czech took the win, making for a real cause for celebration from our staff there!
This was my third trip to Japan. I’ve felt extremely lucky to be there each time. They always treat us with wonderful accommodations, warm hospitality and the occasional laugh from Japanese TV programs. In the evenings, after a dinner with fresh fish and endless options of Japanese foods, we would relax in the calming Onsen hot springs.
The ski town of Hakuba is the home of many of the 1998 Nagano Olympic venues. The Nordic venue is surrounded by a Rocky Mountain size ski resort, with runs that shoot right down to the big climb of the cross-country track. Above the ski resort, snowy peaks rise for more than 1000 meters beyond the highest lifts. To put that into perspective, imagine Deer Valley with another mountain more than doubling it in the background. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fantasize about staying and skiing powder for a few days after the event… maybe next time, definitely sometime.
For the moment, it was time to get some points. Although no World Cup is ever easy, this one had just 38 competitors (with many athletes skipping competitions to prepare for the Olympics). On Saturday, however, I wasn’t at all close after the jumping. Until now, I had never not started the race after jumping. It’s tough to fly halfway across the world and then sit out a race, but this time it made far more sense to save my energy for the next day. Watching the racers grind five times through a grueling course, I knew I had made the right call. On Sunday, I finally put together a better competition jump – still not great, but I could hardly complain about going nearly 15 meters farther than my last three jumps.
I’ve found that I almost always have my best races when I have a good jump and it really counts. I hadn’t had a race on World Cup that I was truly satisfied with in about two years, but with a chance to bring in some points, I was more motivated than ever. Starting in 30th, I ended up skiing to 24th, which was better than I hoped after the jumping. I was the 8th fastest on the day, a stat that doesn’t really matter, but it makes me happy, especially since my previous best was 9th from three years back. The day before, Ben Berend had scored his first-ever World Cup points with a strong 23rd place finish, so it was a good weekend for our team.
From Hakuba, I went right back to Europe on a direct Tokyo – Munich flight. It wasn’t nearly as quick as that sounds. The travel day began at 3AM with a 6.5-hour bus ride (to cover just 185 miles) and a still-too-early arrival to the Tokyo-Haneda Airport. After an 11-hour flight, waiting around in Munich for a few hours, and another couple hours in the car, it ended 26 hours later in Seefeld, Austria.
Seefeld, like Ramsau, is an Alpen-paradise – the perfect place to spend a couple days training before getting right back to competing that weekend. Asides from the 5:00 o’clock wakeup calls (thanks jet-lag), I had nothing to complain about. I was back with a full team here: Grant, Stephen, Jared and coaches/wax techs Tomas M. and Tomas K. I was happy to get a session of training on the hill, a nice easy classic ski, intervals on the race track, and some recovery time at the neighboring four-star hotel’s spa area.
From Seefeld, we headed east, towards Vienna and the edge of the Alps for Eisenerz, Austria. This little town is where I first competed in a Continental Cup on international soil. Since that first eye-opening weekend in 2011, I’ve been back a couple more times. This year, I was excited to get on their completely new 97-meter hill, which was a drastic improvement from their old-school hill that I had competed on in the past.
Despite my enthusiasm for the new hill, ski jumping didn’t suddenly get easy for me. I jumped to 45th on Saturday and 38th on Sunday. (In contrast, I skied the 7th and 9th fastest times). My 94.5-meter jump on Sunday was definitely a better effort for me, but the level of ski jumping on both the COC and World Cup circuits is higher now than ever. If you’re going to jump like that and still hope for a good result, you better ski real fast. I tried my best to do just that, latching on to Bernhard Flaschberger, one of the fastest skiers in our sport. On the best of days, I can hang with him for a while, but one lap of flying through the pack with him was too much for me. On the second lap I went from around 30th to 20th place and right back when I “hit the wall” and watched the group that I had just passed ski by me. Ahead of me, “Flaschi” pushed on to an impressive 11th place (from 41st), but I had a bit of a resurrection in the fourth and final lap and skied back up to 22nd. It wasn’t a result to celebrate by any means, but it’s the best I’ve done on Continental Cup this year. At this point, I have to focus more on overall performance feelings – like I would in a summer competition – than getting too caught up in results and counting points and seconds.
That’s the gist of these last few weeks. I haven’t been on social media much, but I’ve been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support that I’ve received in texts, emails and messages from many of you. You guys are amazing. This winter has been extremely humbling, actually this sport in general is a generous dose of humility for me. Hearing from all of you has been a really needed balance for the tougher days.
Finally, for those that missed it, I sent an email out to everyone who supported me in my Rally Me this year, trying to express my gratitude, which I copied below.
Here I am, not going to the Olympics. In case of any luddites living without social media (which I do recommend trying), you'll need to hear it from me. I didn't make the Olympic team. More than likely, you all already have known this since last week's team naming.
Some of you were probably shocked and a little confused. If you watched Olympic Trials, you might have thought that my 2nd place performance would put me right in line. When we somehow, miraculously, ended up with five spots, surely you would have expected me to be among the crew. Up until a handful of weeks ago, if someone had told me that we’d send five athletes, but I wouldn’t be one of them, I would have been equally in disbelief. Our qualification is all about international rankings, and I never had a day like Trials on the World Cup or Continental Cup during the qualification period. I understood the criteria quite clearly; by the time the selection period ended, I knew where I stood… pretty low on the totem pole.
After the official announcement, I heard from many of you. At a time when I needed support more than ever, a few words of encouragement went a long way. It’s funny how much more likely we are to give congratulations than condolences, but the messages in these few days meant more to me than they could have at any other time. Those that really helped me get through a few bleak days were the people kind enough to praise my strengths as a person, rather than simply a skier. With admittedly spotty success, I’ve endeavored to hang on to this concept. I try not let me entire self-image collapse simply because I often fail to execute over the space of 40 or 50 meters and a time span of a few seconds. From a macro perspective, this notion seems completely irrational. But I’ve given everything to this sport, and I’ve had the full support of a family, community and staff at my side. For years, every goal I set was focused on Nordic Combined: metrics like average ranking, COC and World Cup results, and ultimately preparing myself to ski at the 2018 Winter Games.
And now, it feels like failure.
I’m not the first to feel this, I certainly won’t be the last. Right now, I need to accept this and grow beyond wrapping up my identity with whether or not I have the Olympian prefix.
When I don’t get so caught up in the moment, I take a look back at all of the amazing times I’ve had pursuing this dreams, and I really wouldn’t trade them for an easier way. The experiences of this year alone certainly outweigh a couple weeks of being spoiled by the USOC.
To tie all this together, the real reason I’m writing this is to thank you one more time. I realize now that when I said that I needed your help in order to achieve my Olympic Dreams, it may have been with unfair focus on the result. In reality, what you all really enabled me to do is so much more than I can possibly convey here. This year, the stars didn’t align, but your support doesn’t mean any less because of it. I am forever grateful.
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!
Where am I?