I was home over the weekend and met with Portland Press Herald reporter Glenn Jordan. He’s been covering my athletic pursuits since I was competing for Cape Elizabeth High School. Sometimes talking to reporters is scary, because you never know how they might portray you in the article. But Glenn always seems to parse apart my many words to reveal the essence of a portrait in time. This article is no exception! Click the title in the post below to link to the full article.
Check out this article, “Clare Egan: a biathlete who speaks six languages,” on the IBU’S official website! They interviewed me for a series of articles featuring biathletes and their hobbies.
New Year’s Day for biathletes is May 1st. It’s when the winter season and subsequent vacation are officially over and training for the next year begins anew. In my case, it’s when I face the athletic consequences of not working out for 4 weeks. I’m very active during our month off, but my April activities of choice are walking (read: shopping), tennis, snorkeling, dancing, and wind-surfing. (You’ll notice roller-skiing, running, weightlifting, and strenuous uphill mountain bounding with ski poles are absent from that list.) I am serious about my devotion to rest and relaxation. Most of my readers probably laugh at the idea of me being “out of shape”, and in the conventional sense of the phrase, they’re justified. The fitness base I’ve established over the past six years certainly doesn’t disappear over the course of one month. But May first does not bring conventional workouts and the goal is not conventional fitness! Everything is to the extreme! And for that, yes, even I am out of shape.
I spent my April break traveling with my boyfriend to Colombia and then visiting family and friends in Florida, Rochester, NY, New York City and Philadelphia. (No strenuous uphill running). Even after all that time off from biathlon, I was anxious about starting to train again. The first few weeks are indeed physically arduous, but the bigger challenge for me is the psychological stress that comes with renouncing a balanced life. During the coming 11 months, I will spend about 230 days on the road, train 6 days/week, and commit 24 hours/day to optimal health and recovery.
We are already at our first training camp, in Bend, Oregon. On a typical day here, we ski (on snow) in the morning for about 3 hours, then eat and rest, then run or bike for about two more hours in the afternoon, then eat and sleep. Some athletes thrive on the literal train-eat-sleep rotation, but I resent the zombie-robot I become. There are days when this lifestyle feels freeing, like when I can sit on my porch in the afternoon sun and work on some hobby project, knowing most people are stuck indoors behind a desk. But when I don’t even have the energy to stay awake for the hobby project, it feels like a prison.
I’m working on reclaiming some semblance of balance in my life this year, and I’ll keep you informed as to ways you might be part of that. But for now I have to rest because soon I have to go running for two hours.
My next blogpost will focus on the excitement of the Olympic Year, and I will try to find a time to write it when I am not exhausted.
I regret my lack of diligence with regards to keeping this year’s photographic journal of hotel beds. You can still get a taste for my life on the road, and I’ve included a thorough list of all those beds left unseen.
Other beds, not photographed, in chronological order 5/1/2016-5/1/2017:
(same location listed twice only if I stayed in a different bed)
Olympic Training Center, Lake Placid, NY
My apartment in Lake Placid, NY
Colorado Springs, CO
Park City, UT
Cape Elizabeth, ME
Hosmer Point Camp, Craftsbury, VT
Underhill, VT (camping)
Burlington, VT (hotel)
Burlington, VT (camping)
Canmore, Alberta, Canada
Zdar nad Sazavou, Czech Republic
Craftsbury Outdoor Center, Craftsbury, VT
Cartagena, Colombia (hostel)
Parque Nacional Tayrona, Colombia (hammock)
Cartagena, Colombia (hotel)
New York City, NY
…and now I’m back in Bend, OR, and the cycle begins again!
Here are some of my favorite photo highlights from behind the scenes on the 2016-2017 World Cup circuit.
The turning point of my 2017 season happened in February at World Championships when, after blowing my team’s chances in the Mixed Relay, I hit all my targets in the sprint to finish 20th. Building on that momentum, I had two more top-25 finishes during the championships: 22nd in the 15k Individual and 24th in my first 12.5K mass start! There I was, competing with the top-30 women in the world, wearing bib 30. I was actually ranked 31st going into the final race, but one woman pulled out, so I got to start. It was one of my greatest career goals to race in a mass start, and to do so at World Championships was especially meaningful. I finished 24th and felt totally comfortable and competitive so I know I can be back in the future.
After World Championships, I took a well-deserved break from biathlon by renting a nice hotel for myself in Munich, Germany for a few days. It was a luxury to have my own room, visit museums, go shopping, and relax at local restaurants and coffee shops.
But before long it was back to the grind. We still had three more World Cups to go, and a tough travel schedule– World Cups 7, 8 and 9 took us to Korea, Finland and Norway.
This season seemed especially long, because of the timing of World Championships so early in the season. It is easy to build momentum and motivation up until World Championships, but I found the later races exhausting both mentally and physically. I had some great results during that last trimester though, as my skiing continued to get faster and faster, and I felt more relaxed in my shooting.
One of my favorite moments was the mixed relay in Finland at World Cup 8. That day, our team prioritized the single-mixed relay, with Lowell and Susan pairing up to win the U.S.’s first relay medal in 23 years. That left me and some of our other newer biathletes to race the mixed relay: we called ourselves the B+ Team. I led off, and combined my fastest skiing of the season with decent and fast shooting to tag off in 6th place, a mere :30 seconds behind 1st place. My teammates Joanne, Paul and Sean all did a great job and we finished 8th, which tied the best finish for Team USA all winter, including when we entered our top athletes in the event.
Now I’m at the next turning point: where the 2017 season ends and the 2018 season begins. The Olympic year is almost here! It is crazy to think about next year already, and to be honest I’m not ready for it.
Just a few days after Lowell made history by becoming the first American ever to win gold at the World Championships (or at any senior-level international biathlon race, for that matter), Susan Dunklee made history as well. She is the first American woman ever to win a medal in an individual event at World Championships! Like Lowell, Susan shot a perfect race– 20 for 20– and did so faster than any other woman in the 30-person field. But with the World Cup overall leader, Laura Dahlmeier of Germany, also shooting clean, Susan missed the top step of the podium by just 4 seconds. It was a thrill to watch.
I highly suggest you check out the Highlights or Replay. I will too, since I didn’t get to watch… I was too busy racing in my first mass start competition! I was a bit distracted I must say, as I heard on the stadium loudspeaker that Susan was winning the race as we left the shooting range for our final lap. I shot 1, 0, 1, 2 and finished 24th. It was great experience to race with the best in the world and I look forward to more.
On Thursday at the 2017 World Championships in Hochfilzen, Austria, my teammate Lowell Bailey shot 20-for-20 and out-sprinted Czech’s Ondrej Moravec in a heroic and historic finish. He is the first American ever to win any biathlon race at the senior international level, and he is the World Champion. Congratulations, Lowell!
First and foremost, my teammates and I installed a behind-the-scenes video camera in our changing cabin. Here’s our first video. You can watch the whole series on Maddie Phaneuf’s youtube channel. Make sure to follow Clare Egan and U.S. Biathlon Women on Facebook if you want to stay up to date!
After World Cup 6 wrapped up in Antholz, Italy, my teammates and I remained there for two more weeks of high-altitude preparation for World Championships. It’s a heavenly place, but true to form, the Isolation Station got the worst of me and I had a mental breakdown just in time for World Championships. A change of venue, the arrival of fresh faces among our staff, and a heightened sense of purpose associated with upcoming races brought me out of the hole.
My first race at World Championships was the mixed relay, where I joined Susan, Lowell and Sean. It was one of the more brutal failures of my biathlon career. Susan tagged me in 4th, just seconds out of the lead, and I tagged Lowell in 17th, over two minutes back. It is a horrible, horrible feeling to let your teammates and staff down.
With my next race just one day away, I couldn’t waste any time dwelling on the mixed relay. As I said in an interview with TeamUSA.org, “I have to be diligent immediately about shifting my focus” forward to the 7.5k sprint. If you don’t approach a race with confidence and a positive outlook, there is no chance for success.
One factor that proved critical in my mental rebound was a message I got on facebook from my cousin, Liz Egan. She reminded me of something that I wrote on this very blog: “how you do one day has no bearing on how you do the next.” Those are my own words, yet how easily we forget! I really needed the reminder.
Only one day after my epic biathlon failure, I achieved one of my greatest successes. I hit all 10 targets and finished 20th in the 7.5k sprint. It was my 2nd-best result ever at the World Cup level, and a 20-place improvement from my previous best at World Championships. It was only the 3rd time I’ve ever “cleaned” (hit all my targets) in any race. Fast forward to 56:30 in this race replay to see my smiling face.
The 7.5k sprint was followed two days later by the 10k pursuit. I was happy with my shooting 17/20, but I didn’t have the energy to keep up on skis and dropped 21 places to finish 41st. This was one of those days where my auto-evaluation of my race did not match my rank on the results sheet.
Biathlon is a volatile sport characterized by much higher highs and lower lows than I was used to as a runner or cross-country skier. It’s what makes it so exciting, but learning to manage those ups and downs has proved one of the greatest challenges of becoming a (sane, successful) biathlete.
Another way biathlon differs from many other sports is that being results-oriented gets you absolutely NOWHERE. In fact, it’s a direct path to the penalty loop. The drive to win is as powerful on the track as it is destructive on the range. My high school running coach used to cheer to great effect, “Who wants it more?!”, but wanting to hit the target never helped anyone. (If you have ever tried bowling then you may understand this principle.) To hit the target you have to forget the result entirely and focus on the process. Biathletes have to make this major mentality adjustment each time they transition between skiing and shooting. To clarify the point, I give you effective self-talk for skiing: “I’M GONNA CATCH THIS BITCH NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” and shooting: “Inhale… Exhale… gently pull trigger.”
No wonder it’s so hard to maintain emotional stability!
I’m lucky that the non-biathlon parts of my life are stable, like my friends, family and boyfriend. Happy Valentine’s Day!
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.)
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).
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.