Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Big Rewards Require Big Risks: Crossing the World to find Winter during our Canadian Summer

The Destination:  Snow Farm, Cardrona, New Zealand

The Camp Plan: Ski, ski and ski some more from July 31st-August 21st 2016

The Travel:  Canmore ->fly from Calgary->San Francisco->Auckland->Queenstown->Rent a car-> drive on the left side of the road to the Snow Farm

The Team: Emily, Maya and Dahria

A typical day at the Snow Farm

The Story: 
As athletes we dedicate our entire lives to become the best possible at our chosen sport. For me that is skiing. So when the idea of skiing from 3 whole weeks in the middle of summer was presented to me, I jumped at the idea. Despite the cost, distance and time change, being on snow and training the exact movements we use all winter to race seemed like the right thing to do. New Zealand didn’t just start having winter from July-September this year, it has always been there (after all it’s in the southern hemisphere) being utilized by many before me. But for the first time this spring, I felt it was the right training choice for me. I felt I was mature enough as an athlete and an experienced enough traveler for the benefits of the trip to now outweigh the possible negatives. My excitement over going was echoed by my teammates Emily and Maya who were also keen to travel across the world to find snow. So together the three of us organized a training camp at the Snow Farm in New Zealand for 3 weeks in August.  

 I have skied lots in the summer before, 4 days on a glacier here another week on a glacier somewhere else but never twice a day everyday for most of a month. After being back in the northern hemisphere, on my home continent for the past few days, I can say so far so good. As of right now, my first New Zealand training camp was a smashing success. The conditions were perfect, just like mid winter in Canada, the people, accommodation and grooming was phenomenal, the Snow Farm is awesome. And the best thing about the Snow Farm, it’s not a glacier, so you’re not skiing at 2700m, you’re only skiing at 1600m, which means… You can train as you normally would with hard intensity workouts, race simulation/time trials and strength workouts all while putting in 23-25hour weeks on snow. There just aren’t the limiting factors that we experience when skiing in the summer in Canada at high altitude. And if you get tired of skiing (which is impossible I know), you can drive 45min to either Queenstown or Wanaka and have your choice of many beautiful tracks (kiwi word for a trail) to run or bike on.

 Going beyond the fact that there is no better way to train for skiing than to ski. One of my main focuses/goals this summer has been changing the way I ski, in other words, changing my technique. With the help of my coaches we have been breaking down my movements and building them back up again. We made a lot of progress on roller skis through June and July but brining these new concepts and adjustments onto snow for the first time has allowed me to see if they are truly making a difference. Was I able get more glide or power? Did the changes make a difference or not? I was able to see where I’m at and what still needs to be worked on before the race season arrives.

 These past three weeks in New Zealand camp have made up one of my favourite camps of all time. I skied lots, experienced a beautiful new country, met a bunch of husky dogs that were from the north just like me, drove on the left side of the road (successfully) and probably the non skiing highlight of my trip, I got to pet, feed and cuddle with merino sheep!!!!! Words don’t really do the Snow Farm and New Zealand in general justice so here are a bunch of pictures to try to convey the awesomeness of my experience. 
A post about an amazing training camp can't be left without acknowledging the people who helped make it so great. I want to say a huge thank you to Robin, Ian and the entire Canadian Para-Nordic Team for being so helpful to Emily, Maya and myself during the camp and making us feel like part of your team!! You all went way beyond what we could have expected and I thank you for that.
Deciding to make this trip happen was a big risk with scary consequences but in the end it has given a huge reward and hopefully a lot of benefit for the upcoming season. Only time will tell. All things aside I'm already starting to plan our trip back for next year. 

Still perfect corduroy as the sun starts to set on an afternoon ski!
The iconic view from Bob Lee hut, one of the three back country huts along the trail system. 

The rocks and topography was quite stunning around the Snow Farm

So stoked about winter!!!

Taking in the view along the Hanging Valley trail.

All smiles part way through a ski.

View from town- Lake Wanaka

Chester the horse, one of many friends I made at Mt. Nicolas Farm on our rest day

View of lake Wakatipu from Mt. Nicolas Sheep Station

Nibbles the sheep 2 seconds before he pulls out my hair, he was a big attention hog. 

Chilling with the Sheepies

Trying to take a nice picture but the sun was so bright and strong I couldn't keep my eyes open. Best problem to have!

Maya and I at the Rob Roy Glacier.

A nice little run to change things up. Enjoying the scenery of Mt. Aspiring National park from a different perspective. 

Maya and I excited to go running after driving our car across 7 streams/fjords to get there. 

 A group of sheep eying us suspiciously just before sunset.

Time trial action. Trying to learn from one of the best, Justyna, skiing behind her for a few seconds before she dropped me. 

One of the many spectacular sunsets that an iPhone just can't capture properly. Thank you New Zealand!

Now it’s only a short two months until I’m back on snow again. In the meantime as I sweat from beneath my helmet while roller skiing and my feet start hurting again from the vibrations of the pavement, I will be dreaming on my past three weeks of perfect skiing way down under, in the southern part of the south island in the southern hemisphere.  I can’t wait to return again.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Spring update: Sand, Snow and Northern Adventures

Summer Solstice was a few days ago, the days are getting shorter again, my roller skis are finding a more permanent home under my feet and the thought that I will be back on snow in just over a month is starting to flicker at the edge of my thoughts more frequently.

My past two months have been focused on building strength, building capacity and implementing new methods all without too much focus on roller skiing. Almost all my ski specific training in May was technique sessions on snow. The past two months have been great; this is the first summer in two years that I haven’t gone into spring training treading cautiously. Following my recovery month which I spent the latter half basking in the Hawaiian sun trying to improve my surf skills, followed by a short trip to Vancouver Island, it was back to skiing. Also for the first time in a few years, I felt like I came out of April in pretty good overall shape, so getting back into the gym and going on long runs wasn’t such an ordeal.

Seaside Yoga, playing tourist and checking out the sites on Maui. 
Seb and I enjoying the beautiful running in the Haleakala crater. 

Our new year started with quite a few great skis up a Sunshine. Despite the low snow year, the sunshine village grooming crew gave us great tracks to train on. One of the big changes we’re making this season, as a team is technique based. Working with our new technique coach Kathy we took advantage of the snow to break down our technique and start building it back up, better than ever. The rest of the spring has been a mix of gym workouts, long runs, a running race, time on the roller ski treadmill for technique and testing as well as a 3 day Alberta World Cup Academy mini bike camp at Nipika. I had never been to Nipika before, and I was blown away by how beautiful it is there, needless to say we had a great camp with a good mixture of biking, running, double poling and sauna(ing). This was the first time we had (almost) the entire team together. It was great to get to know the new teammates. The bike camp was also at a perfect time, one week before the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay, in which I raced two legs on a team with friends from Whitehorse.  The KCIBR is a bike race that goes from Haines Junction, Yukon to Haines, Alaska, this race is a mainstay among many Yukoners and Alaskans.

Maya and I (L-R) looking pretty matchy on the last up at sunshine.
Flying up to Whitehorse a few days before the bike relay just in time for solstice was a great chance to spend time with my family and catch up with many of my amazing sponsors. The bike race was a huge success as always. Other than a flat tire that my teammates fixed in about 45seconds, the race went really well. Strong headwinds made for a really good workout and my new purple kit from Icycle Sport made me look super speedy. 

Cheering on Kendra and getting ready to race my legs while enjoying the beauty of the Haines pass with Claire and Travis.
Photo: Claire

Crossing the finish line in Haines. Photo: Claire
After the race was over I had a mini rest period up north before I flew to Montreal/Mt. Tremblant for our present camp.
 In my four days at home I took advantage of the lack of structure. Starting with a gorgeous hike in the Haines Pass with friends. We found lots of snow up high and I remembered how much I love the northern alpine. While at home I was thoroughly spoiled by my sponsors. Icycle Sport our local bike and ski shop has sponsored me with a brand new Giant Trance Advanced 1 mountain bike. I took it for its maiden ride the other night and oh my, it is AWESOME!!! I can’t thank them enough for the bike and the continued support they have given me. Thinking things couldn’t get any better I went to visit two of my other sponsors. Stopping in at Alkan Air to see Wendy and catch her up on how training was going, she offered to send me out for a flying lesson the following morning. Instructed by my former classmate Drew who is now a flight instructor, with a bit of help I took off and flew a Cessna 172 up over my parents cabin out of town and over a few mountains that have taken me hours and hours to hike up. I got to the tops of them in 10minutes. It was really fun to learn how planes work and all the different things that go into flying. Once it was time to land Drew took over and got us smoothly and safely to ground.  Still feeling the adrenaline of being up in the air I pulled my old basketball shoes out of the cupboard and set off the play a games with my old team against the current Team Yukon basketball team. Other than some very sketchy shooting on my part the movement and feel came back instantly. Playing with my old team, it felt like we’d never been apart working together and reading each other like we still played together four days a week, not once every 4 years. Coming home and slipping my feet into my new pair of moccasin was a perfect last night in the Yukon. The slippers, a gift from my sponsor Delmar Washington, owner of Capital Helicopters, who I went to visit when I was home were made by his mother a Haines Junction elder. Solstice in the Yukon is always my favourite time of year and this year was no exception. Filled will family, friends, my favourite activities and such amazing gifts, my trip home left me feeling spoiled and thankful for my community.  

Bike relay team enjoying a post race hike in the Haines pass and looking pretty cool... haha

My new bike!!! Note my really excited face in the window refection

First ride!

Such beautiful artistry!!
View from the air!!

Proof that I flew a plane

Posing with my Cessna 172 after the flight. 

First time the family has all been together since last June. Crazy how time flies.

Best team ever!! Great to reunite for a game while I was home.  Photo: Claire

Our group working really hard during 1 minute all out repeats. One of three bike test at P2 in Montreal this past weekend. Thanks to B2Ten for having us. Photo:Chris
Maya and I stepping up our matching game with our bamboo fibre Swix shirts. Skiing on the F1 race track in Montreal. 

Every year solstice marks a transition in my training season when I re-forge that daily bond with my roller skis and spend a bit less time in the saddle and a top mountain passes. Now out East, the sun is setting early and the training centres have all assembled for our first National camp of the year. We have just had two hard days of testing at B2Ten and P2 in Montreal and are now on route for ten days of training in and around Mt. Tremblant. I am really looking forward to a great camp with so many Canadians training together and am doing my best to hold up in the heat and humidity! As I’m sweating profusely these next few days I will be thinking of the New Zealand winter and the now I will be seeing in just over a month.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

March Madness: Racing for the home crowd

My season has now wrapped up with the Canadian National Championships in Whitehorse. With Nationals ending and all the teams leaving town, so has the snow. I have managed to get in a few more great skis higher up on our trail system but it is definitely the warmest spring I've ever seen in the Yukon.

With racing over for the season, I have had time to reflect on the past two months of racing and just how great it has been: my best season ever, 8 NorAm wins and a 15th place on the world cup. Since the beginning of March, the time has just flown by, it really seems like yesterday that I was celebrating my 22nd birthday in the midst of the Ski Tour Canada. Before we get to the Ski Tour, let me catch you up on what I got up to in February.
Thank you for the great season!

After competing in Europe in January I returned to Canmore for a couple weeks off racing and put in a volume block before the final race period of the season began. 
Racing resumed for me with the Eastern Canadian Championships at Nakkertok Ski Club. I have only race at the Eastern Championships once before, so it was lots of fun for me to race at the Nakkertok trails and spend time in the Ottawa/Chelsea area. The weekend started with the sprint race. After having a really good qualifier in the sprint I was involved in a crash in the A final taking me out of medal contention. I finished the day 5th disappointed with how things had turned out but know that's how sprinting works. In both the distance races I was feeling fatigued from the volume training block I had just put in, but I was able still able to put together some good results, finishing 2nd and 1st in the 10k skate and 15k classic respectively. 

Racing at Easterns
After Eastern's the volume training decreased and the intensity sessions picked up in preparation for the Ski Tour Canada at the beginning of March. The Ski Tour Canada was one of my main goals for the season. In my opinion there is no better way to prepare for races than to race. So a week and a half before the Tour I packed my bags once again and flew to Prince George for the Western Canadian Championships. Another reason to go to Western's was to try to regain the Haywood NorAm leader position that I had lost by not racing the January NorAms. I had done all the math before going and new that since I had decided to only do 2 of the 3 races at Western's in order to best prepare myself for the Tour, I needed to win both to secure the leader spot. 

Before leaving my roommate Macx said to me: "You know what you need to do, just go and win". He said it like it was no big deal. I guess he had more confidence in me than I did but as it turned out I had recovered from the fatigue I had been feeling at Eastern's and felt great during the first race of the weekend. I picked up my first win of the two I needed and was accompanied by my AWCA teammate Olivia in second and good friend Maya in third. The following day was the classic sprint where I picked up my second win of the weekend with an identical podium to the day before. Having regained the NorAm leader position for the Ski Tour Canada I returned to Canmore to put in my final preparations before the Tour. 
It was then a quick hop back east to Ottawa once again for the start of the Ski Tour Canada, the event we had all been waiting for. 

There were the opening ceremonies and then the first race of the Tour, a Skate sprint in Jaques Cartier park. I was the first Canadian to start and the cheers from the crowd when I started were so much louder than I had anticipated. The 800m loop was lined with spectators all the way around, cheering my name and waving Canadian flags. It was an amazing experience, a bit distracting I must admit, but incredible all the same. I crossed the finish line feeling like I'd skied alright, not great but not terribly either. I had let my concentration slip a few too many times and gave up 3 too many precious seconds. I finished 45th in my first race of the tour, 3 seconds from qualification but my teammate Maya had finished 30th, and was into the heats!! An hour later when the men raced, fellow Yukonner and AWCA teammate Knute also made the heats, qualifying 29th. For both of them it was their first ever World Cup top-30, their great results motivated the rest of the team and gave us confidence for the rest of the Tour.
Sprint qualifier at Jaques Cartier Park

Race number two moved to Montreal the next day, the bluebird sky and nice conditions of Gatineau were gone and tough mid winter storm conditions had set in. Stage two was a 10k mass start classic race. With the difficult conditions came lost of crashes but it was my back that ultimately cost me that day. I had been having some problems with my back and pelvis in classic races starting in January but with the soft snow in Montreal my back went into full spasm and seized up 3k into the race. It took all my mental motivation to fight through and finish the race and to top it all off I broke a pole in one of the crashes. Crossing the line 7 minutes behind the winner and crumbling into a ball of pain it was not my finest race but I finished and lived to race another day. 
Suffering through at tough 10k in Montreal
With a day to rest I was able to get treatment and refocus mentally as the racing moved to Quebec City where stage 3 and 4 were held. The back drop of the downtown race course was amazing and the fans were once again out in force, there to cheer on hometown hero Alex and the rest of the Canadian team. Both the Quebec City were skate races which was much better for my back. I was really happy with both of them, missing the sprint heat by only 1.5sec this time coming 39th and having my best distance world cup result to date with a 45th in the 10km pursuit. The home crowd wasn't disappointed as Alex raced to a silver medal for Canada in the sprint, our only medal of the Tour. 
Team skiing- Racing the 10km Skate in Quebec with Cendrine (51) and Emily(47)

The final four races were held in Canmore Alberta so we travelled west once more and had two days rest before we started racing again. Stage 5 was a classic sprint and the final sprint of the tour. Having won a NorAm on this course earlier in the season, I knew that it was my best chance at a top-30. The Canmore sprint course is hard and long. I went into it focused on the process and believing anything could happen. Going up the climb the second time my coach yelled at me, "everybody is hurting, keep pushing", and I did right to the line. When I crossed the line I looked up at the results board and saw I was in 29th position. A wave of cautious excitement came over me as I waited for the rest of the women to cross the line. That cautious excitement turned to absolute elation as my 29th place held up and I made my way back to the finish area to pick my first ever World Cup heat and get my bib. 
By the time the heats started I had calmed down from my earlier excitement and was refocused and ready to race. My heat (6 athletes) included World Cup overall winner Therese Johaug. I was going into the race with the mentality try not to be last. I was thinking maybe I can be 5th or even 4th if things go amazingly well.
When the start gun fired I had so much adrenaline in me I shot out of the start gate faster than I ever have in my life. For an instant about 100m into the race I found myself in the lead. I was soon passed by Therese and two others and climbed the first hill in 4th. As I came under the bridge on the first downhill I saw Therese on the ground, she had fallen. Seeing her on the ground and knowing I was now in 3rd gave me a surge of energy. On the second climb Therese caught back up and passed me but I was able to get in behind her and pass her back on the downhill. In the final double pole finish I put every ounce of energy into my poling and pulled away crossing the line in 3rd place in my heat. Exhausted lying on the ground I looked up to see that I was currently sitting in a lucky loser position, one of the two fastest 3rd place times that would move on to the semi finals. In the end my time didn't quite hold up for a lucky loser position and I finished the day in 15th, still amazing and much more than I was expecting going into the race. The day after my birthday, it was the best present I could have asked for. 
Climbing during my quarter final
Racing against Therese Johaug

I didn't end up finishing the Tour, I did the 6th and 7th stages and finished 41st in the skiathlon then 40th (new distance PB!) in the 10k skate but my back had hurt a lot again in the classic portion of the skiathlon so I sat out the final day which was a 10k classic. It was hard coming so close to the end of the Tour but not completing the it. However with Nationals the following week I new that wrecking my back just to say I had finished wouldn't be worth it.
Cendrine, myself, and Olivia after the Ski Tour Canada skiathlon

So with my career best finish fresh in my mind I packed my bags for the last races of the season and flew north to Whitehorse. 
Nationals is always a great week of racing and other community events and this year was even more special than usual with Nationals being at home. I only did 3 of the races sitting out the Classic team sprint and the 30km Classic to keep my back issues in check. My week started with the 5km classic where I came second to my teammate Emily Nishikawa who had been on the World Cup all season. I was really happy to start the week off so well and even more happy that I was able to get through 5 whole kilometers without my back completely seizing. On our first rest day I had the pleasure to speak at the parent appreciation night and give a thank you speech on behalf of all the athletes as well as talk to elementary school students about skiing and racing. The next two races where the 10km skate and the skate sprint. I was the second starter in the 10km skate so I raced the entire thing with no sense of how fast others were skiing that day. I went hard from the start line and made sure I had exhausted myself by the top of the last climb on the course. I crossed the line as the first finisher of the day and then all I could do is wait. I waited until the last finisher had crossed the line and my time was good enough. I had won my second National title in my two years as a senior. The following day was the sprint and after a rocky qualifier in the morning I felt better as the quarter and semi final heats progressed and skied to my second National title of the week. 
Nationals 10k Skate podium

Ivan and I with the Takhini Elementary students
Kendra and I showing Maya our favourite spot on the Whitehorse ski trails
After the sprint my Nationals were complete with only the 30km Classic left. I had the chance to co-host a great fast and female power hour with Emily and our sport psychologist Tracey. It was awesome to have about 90 girls participate as well as 15 wonderful ambassadors and learning and talking about sport psychology techniques. I cheered on my friends in the 30km/50km races before we all capped off the season together at the Nationals banquet. I placed the same as I did last year in the aggregate but this year without doing the last race. I came 1st aggregate in U23 women and 2nd in open women. My two wins at nationals also secured me the Haywood NorAm Overall title for the season as well as the Buff NorAm Sprint title. 
Winning the NorAm overall means that next fall I will be going over the Europe to race on the world Cup before Christmas. The NorAm overall and a World Cup top-30 were my two big goals for the season. I am so happy to have been able to achieve both these goals. I couldn't have made it through the season without my amazing family; my grandparents who cheered me on during stage 1 of the tour, my sister cheering on stage 2&3 and my parents who were there for my 15th place finish and cheering on stage 5, 6 & 7. My coaches, teammates, boyfriend and friends who were there every stage of the Tour and the rest of the season as well, encouraging, challenging and supporting me. My adopted family in Canmore and my sponsors who help me financially and are always there for encouragement and motivation following my season from near and far. 

Cornering through the scoop during the 5k Cl at Nationals
The next generation of Yukon racers after a great Fast and Female Power Hour
Now I have April to recover from the season and get my back all fixed up and healthy. Having so many racing opportunities on the World Cup this past season has motivated me more than ever for the upcoming training season. Racing at that level showed me the many areas I need to work on to be ready and competitive for the World Cup next year. Thank you to everyone who has been part of this amazing season and I look forward to working with many of you again soon!  
That's all for now. Next year's teams will be announced at the end of April and from there summer training adventures will be planned. Next stop Maui... Happy Spring! 


Thursday, 28 January 2016

Europe Race Journal Part II: My Best World Cup Result Ever!

These past two weeks weren’t technically my first World Cup races, but they were the first ones where I really felt I could compete, not just participate. Over the past two weekends I races two individual and two team World Cup races, a mixed bag of highs and lows, feeling fast and slow. Although I was far from the top and even in a couple races pretty close to the bottom, the feeling I am leaving Europe with is one of excitement and hope. I even had a race where I felt like I belonged, that I could compete for a respectable position among the very best in the world.
The team excited to race in Planica
Leaving Europe now after a month of European Continental Cup and World Cup racing, my excitement to represent Canada this March in the Ski Tour Canada is finally sinking in. My list of things I need to work on before then is longer than ever. One of the best things about racing against the World's best, is the opportunity to learn how they ski and feel the speed they carry over the course.

Of my four World Cup races the first one was the best. I was really nervous the night before but once I got to the race site on race day I was able to just focus on the process and warm up to the best of my ability. Going into the race I was hoping to feel good but I didn’t know what that would give me results wise. Therefore instead of thinking about the end result I focused on how I could race the course better than I had the week before in the Continental Cup race. And I did that! I crossed the finish line knowing my race wasn’t perfect but very happy with how I skied. It took a minute before I saw the results and when I saw 31st up on the screen I was a bit shocked, very excited and also a bit disappointed. The top 30 moves on to the heats and I had just missed out on that. A couple minutes later my teammate Maya crossed the line in 31st bumping me down to 32nd and that's where I stayed, 32nd place. Although Maya and came up less than 1 second short of moving onto the heats, it was a pretty amazing day for us both. Our results from that race are the top two Canadian women’s results on the World Cup this season.
The following day Maya and I teamed up for the Team Sprint where we finished 19th.  Overall the first weekend of World Cup racing in Planica, Slovenia was a very positive experience for me.
Skiing to 32nd in the Skate Sprint in Planica
Watching the women's final, taking notes on how to be the best!

Chris, myself and Knute watching the heats- Alberta World Cup Academy well represented.
Two happy girls after finishing 31st and 32nd

Some Team Sprint action
Between the two World Cup weekends the team went to Ramsau, Austria to train. We were welcomed by lots of fresh snow and endless kilometers of skiing, something that has been quite rare in Europe so far this season thus was kindly welcomed. I had two amazing days of skiing! 
All the ladies training in Ramsau L-R (Emily, Maya, Me, Katherine, Cendrine)
Ramsau is beautiful!! Are you figuring out the trip theme? Jumping pictures...
Unfortunately I woke up Wednesday morning not feeling 100% so I took the day off, a couple of the other ladies also woke up with a cold. I had very minor cold symptoms but mostly my body was just feeling really tired and not the “good: I raced hard” tired, the “I’m fighting something” tired. By Friday the cold symptoms were going away and I prepared myself to race the weekend of World Cups in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic.
The 10km Skate was such a hard race. Not being totally healthy, neither the 10km skate nor the relay was my best racing. However, it was still wonderful to be a part of the first women’s relay team on the World Cup in 8 years. I am looking forward to many more relays in full heath and improving on our 12th place result.
10km Skate Nove Mesto

Canadian Women's relay team! L-R (Emily, Maya, Me, Cendrine)
Another Team Jumping Shot
Now that I am back in Canada I am looking forward to and preparing for the World Cup races here in March. In the meantime I will be racing at the Eastern Canadian Championships Feb. 5,6,7th and the Western Canadian Championships Feb. 18, 20, 21st. Most exciting of all I get to see my little sister at Eastern’s who I haven’t seen since August! Can’t wait to see you Dess!!
The Ski Tour Canada starts March 1st and it will be another opportunity to gain more experience and confidence on the World Cup. 
I would like to thank all of the staff and coaches for the amazing skis and support all trip and my sponsors and family for your love and encouragement. We came awfully close to scoring those coveted World Cup points and with a little more work we will be there!
Thanks for reading, I hope to see many of you on the ski trails somewhere this season!!