Up Next, World Championships!

Trimester two of the World Cup season is a wrap! Over the last three weeks we raced in Oberhof, Germany; Ruhpolding, Germany; and Antholz, Italy. Now my teammates and I will remain in Antholz for two more weeks where we can soak in the benefits of high elevation and sunshine. Then, it’s onto World Championships in Hochfilzen, Austria.

Fans in Ruhpolding, Germany

I raced twice in Ruhpolding and felt horrible both times. The physiological definition of “feeling horrible” is working harder and going slower. My maximum heart rate of 193 during the 7.5k sprint was the highest I’ve seen in cold weather in at least a year, yet my ski time rank of 62nd was my slowest this winter. Everyone has those kinds of days (right…??); figuring out how to minimize and work through them is one of the great challenges of being an elite athlete. At least in biathlon you can self-rescue by doing a flawless job on the range. (In this particular case I did not, so I got 77th place.) I don’t have any secrets, but I do have a lot of experience. Two of the most important lessons are: 1) how you feel during your warm up has absolutely no bearing on how you might feel in your race, and 2) how you feel one day has absolutely no bearing on how you might feel the next.

In fact, less than a week after suffering through my races in Ruhpolding, I felt great racing the 15k Individual in Antholz. And my wax techs gave me the fastest skis I’ve ever skied on in my life! But I mishandled the blustery wind on my second stage, foiling any chance at a good result (1,4,0,1).

Antholz Biathlon Stadium, 2 hours before race start

Then, in Sunday’s 4x6k relay, I finally put together one of my best races of the season! I skied the first leg, starting from the last row of the mass start in bib 22 out of 23 teams. I wasn’t able to gain too much ground on the first loop as I was stuck in traffic, but with clean shooting on my prone stage I moved up to 4th place, just 3 seconds off the front. I held onto the lead pack for a strenuous second loop, then used just one spare round to clear my standing targets. I had the 4th fastest time on the last loop and tagged off in 9th place, just 21 seconds out of 1st!

(In the relay in Ruhpolding I also shot 9/10, but then I panicked and it took me all three spare rounds and a whole lot of time to clear the last target. This week I prepared myself mentally for better execution of shooting my spares and it paid off.)

Tucking downhill in the relay in Antholz

Susan went next and expertly brought us up to 2nd. Joanne cleaned her prone and was sitting in 5th, still only 21 seconds back! Then she did what I’ve done many times and struggled with standing, dropping back to 13th. Standing is so unforgiving! Maddie anchored our team, shooting extremely fast and well and holding onto 13th. This strong performance hinted at the top result our team is capable of, despite being extremely young (in biathlon experience).

Left-right: Me, Joanne, Maddie and Susan… and fans in the background!

The best part of the week was that my boyfriend, his parents, and my parents were all in attendance. I miss them already! Now it’s back to the training grind, as we sharpen our shooting skills and ski speed for World Championships.

View from the Hotel Seehaus where we are staying in Antholz for three weeks!
Scarpe (shoes) in Brunico
Brunico Old City
Antholz stands ready for spectators!
Antholz Biathlon Stadium
Food at the Antholz athlete cafeteria (aka Biathlon Family Club) is most anticipated all year long!
My teammate Paul Schommer and I, as seen on the Biathlon World instagram page.
View from our hike up the Passo Stalle
(left to right): Maddie, me and Susan
Celebrating Erik’s 30th birthday!
Erik and me.
Erik and I with our parents.
Skiing up Passo Stalle
Looking into Austria from the top of the pass
Winterscape atop Passo Stalle
Back to Italy in time for lunch…

Mid-Winter Update

Time flies when you travel to a new country every Monday. My results from the first trimester of the World Cup season (Sweden-Slovenia-Czech Republic) showed good improvement from last winter. I still haven’t repeated the top-20 result that I managed in my first sprint of last year, but my average performance is WAY better. I am skiing faster and my shooting percentage continues to be around 80%. It’s hard to believe but we are already part way through our second trimester (Germany-Germany-Italy).

Racing up a giant hill in Oberhof, Germany.

One area in which I have a lot of room for improvement is standing shooting- both accuracy and speed. I often hit 5/5 prone and 3/5 standing in order to achieve that 80% average. So after the races were over in the Czech Republic, our shooting consultant, Olympic 50 meter rifle champion Matt Emmons, helped me establish a new standing shooting position that is more stable. Matt is one of the best shooters in the world, and so I am very, very fortunate to have his counsel.

Success in shooting comes from repeating the perfect process so many times that it becomes an unconscious act. So learning to set up a new position in the middle of the season is hardly ideal. At first it is very slow, awkward and inconsistent. What may look like small changes to an observer feel outrageous to me! For example, I have placed my rifle into my shoulder the same way at least 100,000 times, so placing it just 1cm lower makes me feel like I’ve never held the darn thing. However, my focus is on World Championships in February and the Olympics next winter, so if I have to take two steps backward in order to take three forward, it’s worth it.

First step: set up new position in the comfort of the hotel room.

I can feel right away that the new position is more stable. After I take a shot, when the rifle recoils, I can watch through my sites as the barrel moves straight up and down, and hovers near the target. With my old position, the recoil movement was random and far-flung. This stability is helpful physically for aiming on target, and mentally in terms of confidence. And now that I’ve been working with the new position for almost a month, I am getting closer to the shooting times I was used to with my old position.

Since traveling back to Europe after our two-week Christmas break, I have not felt great racing, but I am doing everything I can in terms of training (proper stimulus for my body’s current needs) and recovery (nutrition, sleep, mental breaks) to get back to the pre-Christmas shape I know still exists somewhere inside of me. It is a long season with the biggest races yet to come!

Thanks to our Hungarian fans for these shirts!!! We love the slogan.

My parents are here in Ruhpolding, Germany this week and will be joined by my boyfriend’s parents next week in Antholz, Italy. I am glad that my family can experience two of the most exciting venues on our World Cup circuit. After next week, my teammates and I will have a two-week training camp in the high altitude of Antholz before heading to Hochfilzen, Austria for World Championships.

Lowell, Erika and baby Ophelia redefining the “changing cabin.”
Changing cabin decor, featuring coach Jonas’ doppelgänger.
Skiing on Lake Placid over Christmas break with Erik.
Behind the scenes with massage therapist, Jani…best part of my job!
Layering methodology for o-degree (F) weather: glove liner, hand-warmer, outer glove (not shown). Must keep the trigger finger warm but not bulky!
I enjoyed getting off the steep, hilly race course and onto Oberhof’s local trails for a 3-hour classic ski.
Maddie, me, Joanne and Susan in Ruhpolding, Germany on our way to our first relay!