One Athlete's Mind
Last weekend's racing came in the form of the 2012 Haywood NorAm/Western Canadian Championships Mini-Tour in Canmore AB. The 3 day weekend included a 10km classic individual start, a 1.4km skate sprint, and was wrapped up with a 15km skate handicap start race. This weekend was also a mini tour, meaning that your times from the first two days of racing were added together, and then dictated your starting order and position for the handicap start on Sunday.
When we first arrived in Canmore early last week, we were greeted with some -30 temperatures. As a result there was some worry that Friday's race may be cancelled to due the cold temperatures (FIS rules say that you can't hold a race when it's below -20). But thankfully, Friday morning arrived warmer than predicted, so everything was a go. In all my years of racing to date, I don't think I have ever raced on a course as hard as I did for that 10km classic race. It was 3 times around a 3.3km loop which essentially brought you from the stadium, straight up to the top of the course, and then straight back down to repeat. So in other words, it's a great race course as long as you don't hit a wall (figuratively speaking of course, because one of the climbs is actually called "The Wall"). So while I may have hit a little one my second time up The Wall, I was able to ski pretty smooth for the rest of the race, and still get in to finish inside the top 30 Open Men. My biggest issue in individual start racing these days is that I have a habit of thinking about my competitors and how fast THEY are skiing while I'm racing, instead of just focusing on what I am doing. On that second lap when I was really feeling the pain, that's exactly what happened. Comparing to past races last year however, I am definitely improving with this, so I'm really looking forward to my next individual start race for another opportunity to try to overcome this obstacle.
Day 2 was the skate sprint, and not a great day for me. I had a combination of things working against me in my qualifier, and when I arrived at the base of the biggest climb on the course, I was bagged. I'm happy with how I still managed to fight hard all the way to the finish, but unfortunately I just missed the top 30, meaning no heats for me.
Finally the 15km skate handicap start arrived on Sunday. I started in 29th place, and was really hoping to be able to pick off a few guys ahead of me and improve my ranking for the tour before I crossed the finish line. We had the privilege of racing on the Men's World Cup course, which is a very hard, but very fun, 3 x 5km race. For me this was one of those races where I felt pretty good about my race, but the result didn''t quite match my feeling (apparently I wasn't the only one who had a good day). I ended up crossing the line in 27th spot, a small gain, but still a gain nonetheless. One cool part of that race was that Canadian World Cup Team member Ivan Babikov was racing. Since he hadn't done any of the other races in the mini-tour, he had to start in the mass start, which started 2 minutes and 46 seconds behind me. Before the race I had kind of expected him to catch me on my final lap, but during the race I really wasn't thinking about it, so when I came sprinting in to the finish line and could hear someone trying to pass me, I really didn't know who it could be. So I sprinted as hard as I could and managed to beat this mystery person to the line, then turned around to see that it was Ivan! He may have put 2:46 into me, but I still managed to stay ahead of him at the finish, so I felt pretty good about that :).
Yesterday I traveled back to Thunder Bay where I'll be spending the next week recovering from these past 2 weeks of racing. Next Tuesday I'll be heading to Ottawa for another 3 race mini-tour, the 2012 Haywood NorAm/Eastern Canadian Championships Mini-Tour. While these race courses may not be nearly as challenging as those in Canmore, it will be the distance of this weekend that will be the real test. The races will be a skate sprint on Day 1, followed by a 15km skate race on Day 2, and wrap it all up with a 30km classic handicap start on the Sunday. I have always enjoyed the race trails at this race venue, Nakkertok, so I'm really looking forward to these races. And by the sounds of things my parents and Jacquelyn will be making the trip over to watch, so it'll be great to see them again too!
Until next time,
"Look me in the eyes. It's OK if you're scared, so am I, but we're scared for different reasons. I'm scared of what I won't become. You're scared of what I could become..." - Michael Jordan
Last week I was in Whistler BC for the World Junior/Under 23 Trials races held at Whistler Olympic Park in Callaghan Valley. For those who don’t quite understand my reference in the title of this post, the last time I raced at this venue was the 2008 Canadian National Championships, and it was a complete disaster. It was so bad that since then, every time something hasn’t gone my way, I’ve told myself, “Well at least it wasn’t as bad as 2008 Nationals.” But after last week’s set of races, while everything didn’t entirely go my way, it was incomparably better than those races 4 years ago.
Racing got underway on Thursday with my first ever 30km Skiathlon (for those who don’t know, a skiathlon is a race where you do the first half classic style, enter an exchange zone where you switch your skis and poles, and then do the last half skate skiing). I had done a couple of 30km races last year, but never a skiathlon format, so I was very excited to see how I’d make out. I got off to an alright start in the classic, and by the end of the classic leg I was really starting to gain momentum and was picking people off as we headed into the exchange zone. I then had my best ever transition (and was therefore disappointed when I learned they didn’t time people’s exchanges, meaning I couldn’t compare myself to everyone else). But unfortunately this was a case of all good things must end eventually. As soon as I hit the first climb on the skating leg, my muscles began cramping. By muscles, I don’t just mean the major ones like quads, I mean everything from quads and hamstrings to triceps, abs and even some little muscle in my forearm I didn’t even know I had. I knew right away that this was being caused my a severe deficiency in something, so being halfway through a 30km ski race, there was very little I could do. On the downhills I was able to give my legs a bit of a shake and quick massage which helped me to stay on my feet and keep skiing, but my race was, for all intents and purposes, over. Since I was still standing I told myself that dropping out was not an option, so I just put all my focus into each stride and, slowly and painfully, made my way through the final 15km to the finish line. While this may sound like a complete disaster of a race, I was able to learn quite a lot from it which I know will help me in future 30+km races, and even in the races to follow in those next few days.
Saturday marked day 2 of Trials with a skate sprint. After being dumped on with snow overnight, the course set up incredibly soft compared to what we had been skiing in, so it made for a slightly unusual sprint day. When the snow gets too soft like that, you have to really change your race plans, right down to your technique, how you are physically skiing. Having had some success in conditions like these in the past, I knew I had it in me to still have a good qualifier despite the conditions. And having never qualified for the heats in the Senior Men category, I had that added bit of motivation to have my best qualifier of the season to date. It ended up going pretty well, and after having skied it smooth and relaxed like I wanted to, I managed to qualify with the 16th fastest time in Senior Men, giving me my first opportunity to race the heats.
Unfortunately my quarterfinal didn’t go quite as well, my legs having lactated out on the final climb and running out of gas in the final 200m. But I achieved my main goal for the day to make the heats, so all in all, a good day.
The final day of competition came on Sunday with a 15km classic individual start race. This is the race I had been really looking forward to most, so I was hoping to make it my best race of the weekend. I had a good head going into the start area, and really kept it throughout the race, skiing smooth and relaxed and even embracing the pain of pushing my body well past its limits (always a good day when you can do that). One of my goals in every individual start race this year has been to cross the finish line as the current leader (this means that you beat everyone who started before you). And for the first of what will hopefully be many times this season, I achieved that goal on Sunday. After crossing the finish line I was able to hear the commentator announce that I had the new fastest time, and I even got to look up and see my name at the top of the results list on the jumbo-tron in the stadium. That felt good haha :). I held onto the lead for a few more minutes before the top guys started finishing (maybe important to point out that in individual start races, the lowest ranked people go first, with the highest ranked athletes starting last). After all was said and done, I ended up finishing 16th in Open Men. This meant a lot of good things for me. It was both my first time finishing in the top 20 Open Men at a NorAm, and also my first time finishing in the top 10 Under 23 Men at a NorAm. And with this latter accomplishment, I also will be receiving a small ‘performance bonus’ if you will, from my team.
So while I may not have achieved my goal of qualifying for the Canadian World U23 Team this year, I was able to take a lot from these races and learn some good lessons. I am now back in my first home away from home, Canmore AB, preparing for the Haywood NorAm Western Canadian Championships which are being held here this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Despite the current frigid temperatures (currently around -40), the forecast looks a little warmer for the weekend, so I’m looking forward to my next chance to have some great races!
Until next time,
P.S. On occasion I like to browse the internet looking for quotes that speak to me, so after doing so I thought I’d share a couple. Enjoy :).
“Most of the shadows of this life are caused by our standing in our own sunshine.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
“You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
- Christopher Columbus
Sunday night the team and I arrived here in Whistler to begin our preparations for the 2012 World U23/Junior Trials races. Since then we have been getting to know our race courses as best we can, testing skis and preparing for the upcoming races. Despite some rain on Monday, the weather has been beautiful since then, and the skiing has been great!
Tomorrow kicks off my 3 races in 4 days with a 30km Skiathlon (15km classic, change skis and poles, then 15km skate), and I CAN'T WAIT!!! With the Skiathlon being one of my favorite events, I am very excited to do my first one at a distance of 30km. And to be racing here in Callaghan Valley on the same courses as the Vancouver Olympics, it makes these races just that much more exciting!
Following tomorrow's race I'll have a day off to get in a light ski and do some more ski testing before the Skate Sprints on Saturday. The 2012 Trials races will then be wrapped up on Sunday with a 15km Classic Individual start race. Anyone looking to follow results can find them here immediately following the completion of each race:
After this weekend's races I'll be off to Canmore AB for the Western Canadian Championships! Check back here over the next few days for recaps from the races here in Whistler! No guarantees for daily updates, but I'll definitely throw up a recap once I get to Canmore next Monday!
Yikes! It's been WAY TOO LONG since my last post, though I must say it has been nice to kind of shut off my brain and relax for the past couple weeks. But now to pick up where I left off: the Rossland NorAms.
My second race weekend of the year came Dec. 17-18 in Rossland B.C. The first day of competition was a skate sprint, and one of the most frustrating races I've ever done. Leading up to this sprint, I was feeling a little bit nervous about the course and how I would ski it, because last year's race did not go well for me, so I wanted to make sure I skied it much more efficiently and intelligently this time around. I ended up skiing it perfectly, exactly how I wanted to and didn't feel that I got bogged down or anything anywhere. This was the up side. The down side, and the lesson of the day, was that I had picked the wrong skis. So the lesson was, just because a ski tests the fastest in zone 1 (slow/easy training) does not mean they will be fast at high speeds. After 4 days of testing I was sure I had narrowed down my fastest pair, but what I hadn't considered was that all 4 of those days were skied in zone 1, and things could be different at race speed. So a very frustrating day indeed, but a valuable lesson learned.
Day 2 brought a 15km skate mass start race, and my first mass start in the Open Men category. After getting off to a slow start for the first of four laps, my body started to wake up and I began picking people off one by one for the next three laps. I got into a really good rhythm and was feeling really good, but the slow start coupled with the 5th row starting position meant that I had a lot of ground to make up. I ended up finishing 29th Open Men, and was really wishing I would have had another lap to go, as I was reeling in a pack of 5 or 6 guys. Still my second time ever cracking the top 30 though, so not a bad day overall.
So to sum up my early season races, I may not have attained quite the results I was hoping for, but all signs point to increased fitness, drastically improved technique, and becoming a much smarter ski racer. It is with these signs of improvement in mind that I am now preparing for my next set of races, the World Under 23 Trials which will be taking place in Callaghan Valley, BC January 12-15.
On a non skiing topic, I was able to make it back to Penetang this year for Christmas, and had an incredible 9 days at home. With not having plans for every hour of every day, which is usually what happens when I go home, I was able to really take some time to myself and relax, recover from 3 weeks of travel and racing, and spend some quality time with family and friends. Even the lack of snow couldn't dampen my feelings about being home :).
I arrived back in Thunder Bay on the morning of the 29th, and have been taking advantage of the snow here as much as possible. Following a very productive 3 hour ski yesterday, I was even able to take advantage of my eligibility for free pancakes at Lappe for the first time!! Nothing like some delicious Finnish pancakes to make tearing apart your body for 22km all worth it ;). I'll be here in Thunder Bay for the next week, doing some final prep. training to get ready for Trials. Next Sunday, Jan. 8th, I'll be heading out west, and then 4 days later, the racing season resumes!
Hoping you all had as wonderful Christmas holidays as I did!
Happy New Year!!
Jordan Cascagnette, Student-Athlete, Ski Coach