Monday, March 31, 2014

Nationals 2014

The National champion team for our 5th consecutive year!
Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland
    Nationals are always a great competition. Having not done them last year, I was pretty excited for the races. Nationals were in Whistler in 2013 and missing out on that sucked, there's no nicer way to put it. This March though they were in Corner Brook, Newfoundland at Blow me Down ski trails. Some would think that that is a bit of a downgrade from Whistler. I guess it would be like missing out on going to World Juniors when they are in Italy but making them when they are in Turkey (well, not exactly the same). But places like Turkey and Newfoundland are special in there own way. The people in Newfoundland have funny accents and are extremely friendly. Ok, so I guess that is a stereotype, but I swear its true. The scenery is beautiful and the weather is, well, full of surprises. As for Turkey, there are the obvious differences but the landscape is completely different from anything you would find around here, with lots of snow and mountains but no trees to be found. When you go to places like Whistler, you know you will have perfect grooming on Olympic quality trails and when you go to Italy you know that it will be well done, them having hosted many World cups before. But, when you go to Newfoundland or Turkey, you really don't know what to expect, and that is what makes it fun.

Quarterfinal, I somehow managed to fall twice in 1.4km
    I planned to do 4 races at Nationals this year. I decided to skip out on the 10km skate race. It was a hard decision but hey, it's still 4 more than last year. So, after a fun week of racing, here I am reflecting on all of it (and procrastinating doing any sort of homework, very successfully). When asked about how Nationals went, I am not sure what to answer. I didn't have any amazing races, but it didn't go terribly either. I never got a top 6, I didn't improve my qualifier, I failed to make semis in the sprints and I had disappointingly slow lap times in the team sprint. But, when I look at things closer, I realize that I'm not actually that far from where I would have liked to have been. I was 30s from the podium in the 5km classic and 30s from being 4th in the 20km. I never would have even dreamed of skiing a 20km this past November, let alone be competitive in it. And that is extremely encouraging. I know that I have SO MUCH more to give, so many things to improve on and so many things to do differently from last year. I am very very excited to start training this summer. I haven't done quality summer training in 3 summers so it is more than exciting for me to finally know that when May comes around, I won't be wishing for it to delay itself. And then when September comes around, I won't be counting down the months to the ski season, trying to figure out whether I will be fit enough to race. This year, I KNOW that I will be able to train and for once, I can't wait for summer!
Sprint qualifier

The Nakkergirls showing off their muscles. Skiers can only be
 so classy. From left to right, me, Holly Brown, Alex Slobodian
and my sister Katherine.

   I'd like to finish off by mentioning how proud I am of our Nakkertok Junior women's team. Looking at the aggregate points list, we seem to be the strongest junior women club in Canada. None of us are on a training center so we get to train together all year round while going to school. It is a great set up and it has created a great team!

My sister Kath and I visiting Gros Morne
That is all for now!


Monday, February 3, 2014

A Fresh Perspective

     Sometimes what you love needs to be taken away from you to fully appreciate it. Having not raced in a while, I feel like I have a fresh perspective on the whole thing. I have noticed that the way I look at a race and the way I prepare for it has changed. I seem to enjoy or appreciate different things about ski racing. This weekend, I raced a skate sprint and a 15 km mass start classic race at Eastern Canadians at Nakkertok, my home club. After a pretty crazy day on Friday, I am extremely happy to say that I won! Yay!
A very happy Emilie after the sprint

     I had a bit of a rough start to the day on Friday. A week ago, I dropped a 40 pound trap door on my head and ever since, I have been getting headaches. Friday was no different, and I woke up with a headache once again. Having heard about so many bad experiences that athletes have had with concussions, it is needless to say that I was pretty scared. After either having problems with sickness or injuries for the last 3 years, I have become very wary of this type of thing. So, more than ever, I understand the importance of making sacrifices that will pay off in the long run. After talking to my coach, Kieran, I decided to not race. I was heart broken. I don't think I have ever been so disappointed about not racing in my life! About 30 minutes before my race, Kieran came to see me. He had talked to a doctor and he was pretty convinced that I didn't have a concussion. So, I decided to race! After about a 15 minute warm-up, I was at the start line ready to go...kind of. It wasn't my best qualifier but I felt A LOT better than I did in the Canmore sprint. I was feeling pretty confident that I could go a lot faster in the heats! Going through the quarter and semi-finals, my goal was to ski as efficiently as possible while testing out different tactics. When it came time for the finals, I was confident that I could win. I had super fast skis and got ahead on the first downhill, so I decided to just go for it!

Celebrating my sprint win

     The best thing about Fridays race though, was something that you might not expect it to be. It was great to feel good skiing again and to win, but the best part was how excited everybody seemed to be about my win. Coming into the finish, there was a lot of cheering, after the race, I was greeted by my very excited teammates and coach and for the rest of the day, Nakkertok parents and skiers came up to me to give me a hug and congratulate me. Everybody seemed to be just as excited as me about the race. This is when I finally realized and understood that when I was going through tough times, everybody had my back. Having that kind of support is the best thing you could ask for as an athlete and it is hard to fully understand how important it is. I guess sometimes running into an obstacle (double meaning intended) is what it takes to fully appreciate skiing and everything that comes with it.

My teammate Alex, very excited about my win even though she missed out on making the A-final  because of a fall
     The next thing that has changed is my perspective of results. After my first race of the season in Canmore, I went for a cool down, came back and talked to my coach and Dad about the race. They seemed really excited. But, only  after a few minutes of talking to them, did I ask how I did. Then, after the qualifier on Friday, I hardly payed attention to the results. Somebody told me I qualified 3rd and I took their word for it. Before heading out to warm up for my heats, I sneaked a peak at my qualifier result and that was it. I used to be the type of person who would analyse results, figuring out how far behind or in front each person in my heat was from me in the qualifier and then trying to figure out whether I thought I could make up or lose that time. We are always told as athletes to make goals that depend on ourselves and ourselves only. So that would mean not to have result oriented goals. But it is so hard to do that, especially being the competitive person that I am. What makes a good race, is a race where you are able to push yourself as hard as you possibly can and feel good doing it. Not being able to do that for a while made me realize what I truly loved about the sport. And now, I can honestly say that what's important is just going out there and killing yourself. I never would have said this a few years ago, but who cares about what place you came and who beat you? The point is, ski racing is awesome! I took these lessons I learnt to heart on Sunday and just went out there and had fun!
Coming down Dirks Dive with Ember Large close behind in the 15km classic race on Sunday
Until next time,


Thursday, January 16, 2014

David and the Goliath

I read this book by Malcolm Gladwell called David and Goliath. He has written many awesome books, but I thought this one was perfect to explain my situation. As I hope most of you know, the story of David and Goliath is about a young shepherd boy named David who takes down a mighty worrier called Goliath with all but a slingshot and a rock. This tale is often used today to show that sometimes the underdog takes over the bigger and the better. In his book, Malcolm Gladwell takes the story of David and Goliath as an example to change our view on what it is really like to be the underdog. According to historians, Davids slingshot was extremely powerful and shepherds at that time and place were very good at using them for scaring off predators from their sheep. Goliath on the other hand, is believed to have had a disease that made him big but have pour vision. So killing Goliath with a slingshot was easy for David. Goliath was a big target and he couldn't even see the rock coming. This example goes to show that being an underdog isn't always a disadvantage. When looked at closely, a disadvantage could  potently be an advantage.

Nakkertok training camp in October in Lake Placid
Last week, I did my first races of the year. It was world junior Trials in Canmore Alberta. The last time I did a big race was at nationals in 2012 in Mont St-Anne. I have been struggling with my training ever since then. It's only this September that I was finally able to figure things out and start training again. Things haven't exactly gone smoothly since then, but it was definitely a turning point. I got to the races last week with almost no idea of how things were going to go. I haven't been going to the gym because of an injury and I haven't been doing intensity because I realized that it was the thing that was making me the most tired. My training has mostly consisted of long zone 1 skis. I didn't know how my body was going to react to racing around a hard course like the one in Canmore. I feared blowing up and not being able to finish the race and I feared racing and feeling awful doing it. Basically, I feared not being able to just race, by pushing my limits and finishing off hard. All these things I was feeling and what I knew about my fitness made me a definite underdog. I was desperate to find myself any advantage over the other skiers because I knew I was missing something. I sat down with my coach the night before the 5 km classic race and he told me to look at the things that I could control. I am good at downhills so I planned to race those well. My other plan was to start out easy and pick it up throughout the race. Finally, I told myself that I had to ski as efficiently as possible because I could not afford to waste any energy.
5km classic in Canmore at WJT
B final in 1.3 km skate sprint in Canmore at WJT
On race day, I followed my plan perfectly. I started easy and finished hard, almost feeling a little too energetic at the end. So, I considered my race a success. Being able to push hard in a race was absolutely amazing and reminded me of how awesome ski racing really is! I ended up finishing 7th in front of some strong skiers. In this case, I believe that my disadvantage was also an advantage in some ways. Because I knew that I was probably not as fit as the other skiers:

  • I started easy which turned out to be a good pacing strategy. On such a challenging course, everybody except me and one other skier had a slower second lap. Starting too hard in Canmore is something that you want to avoid at all cost because, honestly, it sucks struggling up the "wall" (the biggest hill on the course) at the end of a race.
  • I skied as efficiently as possible. I know that everybody tries to do that, but when you are desperate to find any sort of advantage, you try harder.                                                     
  • I didn't feel a lot of pressure. The top skiers were probably feeling a lot more pressure, with a spot on the Canadian team for world juniors at stake.
Also, because I only raced one race with CPL points last year, my points were very low. But, this turned out to be an advantage. I hardly saw anybody on the course so I was able to focus solely on myself and my plan!
The Nakkertok girls after the last race
I've learnt that looking for advantages is extremely important in sport and in every other aspect in life. There is almost always an advantage to a disadvantage. As examples: Injuring your shoulder makes you work more on your legs, qualifying last in a sprint makes people underestimate you, losing someone you love makes you stronger because you know you have survived the worst, not making it into the best school means you won't be over shadowed by the other students at the school you choose and being sick helps you learn more about yourself. Whenever you lose something, you gain something else.

To finish off, I would like to congratulate my awesome siblings, Katherine and Patrick, and my amazing friend, Sophie Carrier-Laforte, for qualifying for world juniors and U23s in Val de Fiemme Italy. They have all put an impressive amount of effort into training for skiing in the last few years, so they definitely deserve recognition. I wish I could be going with them, but I guess I will have to wait until next year!

Thanks for reading my first blog post. There is more to come!