Back to Work!

I spent two weeks in the US over Christmas. After spending seven of the previous eight weeks on the road, I was so happy to be back in my own apartment and my own bed. Believe it or not, our pre-Christmas travel is just the beginning. I flew back to Europe on New Year’s Eve and I will return to Lake Placid the first week of April.

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Back in my own bed!!!
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Our little apartment with Hilda (pig on table), our “Christmas Tree” (left) and our view of Mirror Lake.
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First thing’s first: baking delicious, buttery scones.

When I first got home, I had a few days off to recover from a cold, get on the right time zone, and do a lot of phone interviews about the Olympics! Talking with people who are really excited for me helped me feel more excited too. I am still disappointed with how my season is going relative to previous years, but I am so happy and relieved that I met my goal of qualifying for the Olympics before Christmas. Once I felt healthy enough to venture outside, I was back at the shooting range!

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Back to work. 

Soon after I arrived in Lake Placid we got a blizzard, and then the sun came out and the temperatures dropped, and dropped… and dropped. On the coldest day the high was -7 degrees Fahrenheit. It made it really difficult to train! I had to work out indoors on the roller-ski treadmill because I didn’t want to hurt my lungs. When I did brave the outdoors, I had to wear so many layers that shooting was a challenge.

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Sunrise on the winter solstice, one of my favorite holidays!
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Fresh tracks at the biathlon range in Lake Placid.
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Representing UNH Skiing in the gym!

Erik and I went to his parents’ house in Rochester, NY, again this year for a couple of days at Christmas. It was really nice to be in a very Christmasy home with the whole Lewish family. My parents live in Florida during the winter, which is not a great place to train for skiing! So I’m lucky Erik’s family is relatively close by.

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Christmas at the Lewishes’.
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I struck Nordic gold when I found Audrey Mangan for a 3-hour ski on Christmas Eve in Rochester, NY at Mendon Ponds Park.

It is wonderful to go home for Christmas, but now that I’ve flown back to Europe and slogged through my first race, I remember why many American winter-sport athletes make the difficult decision to commit to five full months of hotel life: it is nearly impossible to perform well after travel! On top of the major germ exposure, sleep deprivation, substandard nutrition, and long hours crammed into a seat, anyone who has flown across timezones knows how out-of-it you feel for a few days. The common saying is that the adjustment takes one day per hour of time change. I don’t think I am truly back to my optimal physical and mental capacity for at least that long. Consequently, our first races of the season in November and again after Christmas in January are somewhat sacrificial. And when they don’t go well, the confidence blow can be hard to overcome. After working so hard all summer, it’s extremely frustrating to thwart your own chances for success. But that’s my choice: five months of hotels, or a Christmas at home that all but guarantees dismal performance come January. I went home and saw my boyfriend and ate scones and slept in my bed. And that’s that.

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Back in Oberhof, Germany where the annual Biathlon World Cup week means 7 days of fan parties.
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Oberhof behind-the-scenes parking lot full of team wax trucks.
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Russia’s wax truck.
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Our team van. Only the essentials, right Susan?

I am now in Ruhpolding, Germany getting ready for World Cup 5, which kicks off on Wednesday, January 10th with the men’s 20k Individual. My next race is the women’s 15k Individual on Thursday the 11th. Then on Saturday, Susan and I will finally be joined by two more American women so we can compete in our first 4x6k women’s relay! We had to sit out the first two relays of the season while other American athletes progressed through various stages of team qualification. There are now just four women competing for the remaining three Olympic Team spots– 2 plus 1 alternate. We will know on Thursday who our relay and Olympic teammates will be. Four years ago, I set my mind to doing everything in my power to avoid competing in these last-minute, high-pressure, high-stakes races at which beating your own teammates inevitably becomes your primary objective. Not everything has gone my way this season but pre-qualifying for the Olympic Team in December definitely did!!!

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Biathlon Nightmare, Olympic Dream

Our journey from Austria to France for World Cup 3 was a day that will live in US Biathlon infamy. Thanks to a blizzard, our 8.5-hour drive turned into almost 16 hours and concluded with the whole team pushing the van up the driveway to our rental house at midnight. Worst of all, we were under a time constraint to get to the Mont Blanc tunnel before a scheduled closure, so we only stopped twice the whole day for quick snacks and a bathroom break. Getting enough food is one of my biggest challenges so this was a major setback. I started coming down with a cold the next evening.

Two days later, fighting the cold, I slogged through the sprint, missing 3 targets and placing 81st. It was my worst result in a few years. My teammate Susan, on the other hand, who had struggled mightily on the shooting range at World Cups 1 and 2, accomplished a heroic biathlon turnaround by shooting clean to place 10th. We were all ecstatic for her.

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Susan moved from 10th to 6th in the pursuit– back in the flower ceremony where she belongs!

Joining me in the disappointing-race club was my other teammate Emily, who also missed 3 and finished in the 80’s. Neither of us would be moving on to the pursuit race. Time to pack our bags and head home for Christmas.

It was in this moment that I technically clinched my Olympic Team spot. My 35th place from the sprint in Hochfilzen at World Cup 2 stood as the top result between Emily and me. Susan is pre-qualified for the Olympics. Emily would have to return to the 2nd-tier IBU Cup after Christmas to battle it out with other top women for the remaining three spots.

I felt anything but triumphant. I had just finished my worst race in years, I was leaving the first trimester of racing with fewer World Cup points than I’ve had in any other year, and I took zero pleasure in Emily’s bad race. I was sick and tired.

“If no one meets the automatic standard [30th place] before Christmas, then the team will be filled to a maximum of 2 people, [including pre-qualified athlete, Susan Dunklee]” based on best World Cup result. I had the Olympic Team qualification criteria memorized. And as I ran it through my head, I thought that, in fact, filling the team to “a maximum of two” does include the possibility of filling it to just one. Susan tried to give me a high five. I told her I wasn’t celebrating yet; I wanted to wait until I saw my name on an official press release. Our coaches and staff were focussed on the upcoming pursuit races and said nothing to me. If only I had hit my last shot in that sprint in Hochfilzen…

I had some special people watching on course that day: my parents and my unofficial host family from my semester abroad in Switzerland. I wish they all could have a seen a more beautiful race but I was glad to have them there nonetheless. After the race we all drank hot chocolate and spoke Frenglish together.

My parents came all the way to France only to watch me do one bad race. But their attendance soon served a greater purpose when they put me up in their hotel so I wouldn’t give my cold to my teammates. We watched the pursuit races together from the stands. It was an unfamiliar vantage point for me and a reminder that, in spite of all the frustration, I still prefer to be on the athlete’s side of the fence. Then we drove down to Geneva for the night, where my parents treated me to steak tartar, Glühwein, and a choir concert. It felt good to escape from the biathlon circus and plant my feet firmly in the real world.

The next morning, I woke up to messages and emails congratulating me on making the team. I read my name in the press release: “Clare Egan achieves Olympic Dream.” I still felt like I was in a biathlon nightmare. I knocked on my parents’ hotel room door and told them the news. Then I got on a plane and flew back to the U.S. early, a day before them.

There was no crossing the finish line in a blaze of glory, fists in the air, running into my coach’s arms, reaching to hug my mom in the stands. I think in a way I’m mourning the loss of that moment. I am trying to let go of the romantic vision I had about how anything pertaining to the Olympics is supposed to go or feel.

Three days, four phone interviews, and hundreds of congratulatory messages later, I am still struggling to reconcile acute near-term disappointment with totally overwhelming long-term achievement. It’s the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat all at once.

I finally let Susan congratulate me today. This will be her second Olympics; she narrowly missed making the team in 2010 and then pre-qualified in 2014 as the top American woman biathlete in history. “It’s a big emotional load, no matter how it falls,” she said. In 2014, when I asked Susan how she felt about qualifying for her first Olympics, she said “ready.” My emotions may be all over the place, but I can say with complete certainty that I am ready, too.

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IBU world cup biathlon, sprint women Oestersund (SWE)

In the News:
Official USBA Press Release: Burke, Doherty and Egan qualify for Olympic Team
Portland Press Herald: Cape Elizabeth native on making 2018 Olympics: ‘It hasn’t set in yet’
Team USA.com: After Going From Collegiate Track And Field To Biathlon, Clare Egan Achieves Olympic Dream 

Expletive-free account of World Cups 1 and 2

My season got off to a %#$ brutal start! In the very first race, the Mixed Relay, I had two %$# penalty laps in standing despite using all three !@# extra rounds, and ruined the whole @#$ race for my team for the 2nd consecutive year. Lovely! My next two races I placed in the 70’s. @#$%&&#$.

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High noon as seen from my hotel room in Östersund, Sweden.

I felt unprepared, jet-lagged, sluggish, and consequently stressed. For better or for worse, our team always starts off slow and excels in February at the championship races. I’m confident that I’ll be in peak shape when it counts the most, but it’s still hard to overcome the early-season blow to my confidence. On the bright side, my shooting in training was excellent, and I felt better and better each race.

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Not all bad: reunited with my wax tech, Gara!

After almost two weeks in Sweden, we traveled to Hochfilzen, Austria. I was happy to return to one of my favorite hotels and the site of the magical 2017 World Championships. We traveled on a charter flight, which I always enjoy because it is one of the rare times when all the athletes come together in a non-competition atmosphere. I sat with Quentin Fillon-Maillet (FRA) on the plane and he was even chattier than me.

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We love our new beautiful, bold, blue uniforms! Thats Emily on my left and Susan on my right.

During the first few days in Hochfilzen we enjoyed a much-needed dose of sunshine. We also got out new uniforms!!! And I spent several hours rotating between the sauna, cold pond, steam room, and relaxing bed. I felt enormous gratitude for my lifestyle. My training continued to go really well, and with the help of our sports psychologist I worked hard to rebuild my confidence. Just in time for the Sprint race, it started dumping snow.

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Sports psychologist Sean (left) and Shooting consultant Matt on the range in a blizzard in Hochfilzen.
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Crazy weather means it’s anyone’s game!

It was the crazy kind of weather that made me laugh during my warm-up, as I wondered, “how am I gonna see the #$% targets?!” The wind was gusting and I couldn’t see anything though my snow-caked glasses. But I’ve always done well in inclement weather and this was no exception. I shot 8/10 (missed 1 prone and 1 standing) and finished 35th, less than 10 seconds outside of my team’s top-30 automatic qualification standard for the Olympic Team. I had missed my last #$@ shot. Still, I was thrilled to have a good race under my belt, to have scored some World Cup points (top 40), and to have qualified for the pursuit race (top 60). Starting in 35th position in the next day’s pursuit would also put that top-30 standard well within my reach. To celebrate, I went to the main square to celebrate St. Nicholas Day with the locals.

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This horrific monster, called the Krampus, beats children (and unsuspecting adults, it turns out!) with his goat tail on Saint Nicholas Day (December 6th). Not really sure I understand the tradition but I think it’s sort of like getting coal in your stocking.

The first lap of the pursuit I was right where I want to be. I felt relaxed skiing in a pack of super strong women. Then I didn’t adjust my sights correctly for the wind when I came into the first shooting and missed two. I didn’t lose hope. Then I missed two again on my second shooting. Still didn’t lose hope. Then I missed two more on my third shooting and lost hope. On my last shooting, I hit the first four and then missed my last #$% shot again. I did pass one person in a glorious charge up the final hill.

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In hot pursuit of France’s Marie Dorin-Habert during the first lap of the pursuit in Hochfilzen.
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Making a move on my last lap.
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Peace signs, or the number of penalty loops I did on each of my first three laps in this pursuit.

I slid back from 35th to 53rd place in the pursuit. But I left Austria relieved and satisfied, knowing 35th would likely be enough to earn me a spot on the Olympic Team. We were also given a case of mini-champagnes by a devoted fan, which didn’t hurt.

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Some biathlon fans are better than others.

 

TWO DAYS TO GO!

The race season is upon us! My favorite time of year!

Coming back to Östersund, Sweden for World Cup 1 each November has this “back-to-school” feel. You get to see all your friends you haven’t seen since last year. You return to the same old place and familiar routine. You have new clothes, fresh supplies, and a blank slate. It’s my third year now. I can only imagine how Ole Einar Bjørndalen feels as he begins his 25th.

Our first race is on Sunday. I will do the mixed relay with Susan Dunklee and two of our men, to be determined. During training this week, a lot of people will ask, “How is your shape”? This must translate well from some language, but I haven’t yet figured out which one. Maybe everyone thinks it comes from English so we continue to repeat it to each other, each assuming it sounds legit in the other’s language. But really, does anyone know the answer? I won’t be able to say for sure “how my shape is” until I test it out on Sunday. I think I’m in good shape. I mean, nothing crazy happened this summer. I was healthy; my training seemed fine. But our sport is all about ranking ourselves relative to everyone else. Unlike a runner, I don’t know any of my race times. All I know is that I got 1st or 15th or 80th or whatever. So Sunday is when I’ll find out how the last seven months of hard work have affected “my shape.” I can say for sure that I’m well-prepared and ready to race!

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We spent last month training on snow in Canmore, Alberta. Sunrise in the Canadian Rockies is not to be missed.
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Another year, another successful hotel-made Halloween costume in which I can ski, shoot, and represent one of the finer cultural institutions of my country!
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Snow-making on a sunny morning in Canmore.
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The Canmore Biathlon Stadium in all it’s glory.
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Put the 2019 Canmore World Cup on your calendar! February 4-10, 2019.
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We did two races with the Canadians. I had 1 bad and 1 better! Photo: Lew at Mountain West Dermatology.
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Susan, Emily and I skyped-in our former teammate Hannah from her home in New Zealand for a painting lesson. Can you match the artist to the painting?
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It was good for the soul to get off the 2k man-made snow loop and hit the trails for real cross-country skiing!
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Out on a 3-hour “tour” with Paul!
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FAN STICKERS ARE BACK!
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Beautiful new USA gear. No longer purple and orange, we are returning to the red, white and blue!!!
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Still the “official” athlete entrance to the Östersund Biathlon Stadium.
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2017-2018 athlete training bibs. Better not lose it! It’s required every day for skiing on course. Susan Dunklee gets her name on hers for being in the top-30 overall from last year. Emily and I have a new goal!

Be sure to tune in on Sunday to watch us live, here. The full race schedule, with times automatically listed in your local timezone, is here.

Thanks for cheering, wherever you are!!!

Korean Lessons! 한국어 수업

Since June, I’ve been enjoying my new favorite hobby: Korean lessons!!! After spending last winter learning the basics on my own with a textbook and audio CD’s, I realized I needed help from a teacher in order to improve my speaking and listening abilities.

I was delighted when Seok Bae Jang, a professor at my alma-mater, Wellesley College, agreed to “meet” with me twice per week on-line. Neither of us had ever done a one-on-one digital class before but it has worked out great. Using Google Hangouts video/audio chat, we can have a conversation just as if we were sitting in the same room together. To help me learn new words, he writes on a mini whiteboard and holds it up to the camera for me to see.

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A page from my Korean workbook. I’m on book 2, chapter 10!

I am learning so much! But it is so much more difficult than any of the European languages I have previously studied that my progress feels slow. As of very recently I am able to piece together sentences on my own. Our lessons will end in mid-November when I head to Sweden for our first races but I will continue to practice on my own. My goal is to be able to communicate with Korean fans and volunteers in Pyeong-Chang, IF I am selected to represent Team USA at the Olympics.

Last February when I raced in Korea, the local people were so excited when I could say even just a few words. Learning another’s language is one of the greatest signs of respect, and in a time when the US is perhaps not viewed in the kindest light by our global neighbors I hope that my small voice can make a big impression.

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First snow of the year!

Last night it was 70 degrees at about 8pm in Lake Placid. I stood in awe of the warm, almost tropical breeze that would have been uncharacteristic even in July.

Then today it snowed… Training season is almost over! I haven’t blogged for a few months because my day-to-day biathlon training seems very monotonous. But since I know I have a few die-hard fans who are interested in the summertime work that breeds wintertime success, I offer this summary.

  • April: Rest. Some athletes emphasize “maintaining fitness” more than others.
  • May: Gradual reintegration into full-time training. On-snow camp in Bend, Oregon.
  • June: Increase the training volume and add high intensity. …It gets real!
  • July: Repeat the routine. “Just keep swimming!” (In sweat? In the lake? Both.)
  • August: Roller-ski races, recovery week, then ratchet back up the training.
  • September: Push through 3 weeks of t/draining camp.
  • October: Put one foot in front of the other.
  • November: On-snow camp in Canmore, AB, Canada!
  • December-March: Sleep in, eat delicious European hotel cuisine, ski on powdery white snow in gorgeous, sun-drenched Alpine hamlets, relax in the sauna… oh and compete on the world’s biggest biathlon stage in front of thousands of fans 3x/week!

You can see which part of the year I enjoy most, and which months are a struggle! During the training season, I do a mix of roller-skiing, hiking, biking, running, swimming, weightlifting and shooting. While going hiking with friends on a sunny day is an unquestionably cushy “job”, I also endure more than my fair share of cold, rainy roller-ski workouts, uphill running intervals, and Saturday afternoons inside the weight room. I think the hardest part is that I am often too tired at the end of the day to do normal-person things like go to trivia or see a movie.

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This is the reward! The challenge is roller-skiing up the Whiteface Mountain toll road to get here.
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Not sure if she’s my protégé or I’m hers, but Chloe Levins (age 19) is a great biathlete with whom I shared a room at my first training camp! Here we are hiking in the Adirondacks.
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My local training partner, and former UNH teammate, Elizabeth Izzo.
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Lake Placid as seen from McKenzie Mountain.
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Last lift of the 3-week September training camp!

Every year, June is the hardest month physically, and October is the hardest month mentally. All the training catches up with me in the Fall and by October I’m totally out of gas. That is by design. The hard part is almost over! With our Fall roller-ski races behind us (I won Sunday’s race!), I now have a week to recover before heading to Canmore, AB, Canada for our final 3-week training camp. I leave for Europe five weeks from today. By then I will be rested and ready to go.

 

Once our competition season is underway we really don’t train that much. It’s all relative, but for us, “not much” means a daily 20-minute morning jog followed by stretching and dry-firing (indoor shooting practice without bullets), a 1-2hr ski, and maybe another jog and/or core strength. The total training time rarely exceeds 2 hours per day. That’s compared to an average of around 4 hours per day in the summer.

Still, I did have time to do some fun things this summer, including: attend two weddings in Maine, surprise my parents for father’s day with both of my brothers, watch a NASCAR race in New Hampshire and go camping afterwards, go to my Egan family reunion in Wisconsin, spend a week at the Jersey shore with my boyfriend and his family, watch the Travers Day Stakes horse race in Saratoga Springs, NY, host friends from high school and college in Lake Placid, travel to Colorado to visit friends and attend my cousin’s wedding, sail on Mirror Lake (in my back yard), go apple-picking, and work in the Lake Placid community garden. This weekend my boyfriend and I are going to Montreal for two nights before I fly out on Monday morning for our camp in Canmore, Alberta.

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NASCAR with Erik and Paul!
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Erik and I took Maura and Kenny hiking during their visit to Lake Placid.
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Apple picking!
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Visiting Alex in Frisco, Colorado.
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Hiking at 10,000ft+ in Frisco, Colorado.
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Summit of the minds… US Biathlon Women (+our fan/my neighbor, Brian) congregated on my porch during a training camp.
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We saw three double rainbows from my porch during June. Can you say LUCKY?
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Success! Our Lake Placid Girls with Guns clinic brought 20 girls and enough enthusiasm and curiosity to keep me motivated for the rest of the summer.
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One of the most spectacular hikes I’ve done! Boothe Lake Trail outside of Vail, Colorado.
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A gorgeous hike in Vail with my childhood friend who lives out there, Mary-Kate.

I am pre-qualified for the three pre-Christmas World Cups in Sweden, Austria and France. At those events, my goal is to to meet our team’s minimum Olympic qualification standard of 30th place. If I meet that benchmark, and no more than 1 of my teammates has a better result following the end of World Cup 3 in France, then I will officially be named to the team. I am sure I can do it!

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On October 15th, I won the last of 4 World Cup trials roller-ski races, shooting 0,1 and edging out Emily Dreissigacker (0,1) and Maddie Phaneuf (0,0) in a very tight race.

Hot off the Press

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.

One year done, another begun

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.

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Parque Nacional Tayrona, Colombia
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Cartagena, Colombia

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.

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Yesterday was delightful. Today we skied for 3 hours in freezing rain so guess what, no smiling picture.

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.