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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.