Thursday, 16 January 2014

U23 Trials

The last couple weeks have been taken up by all sorts of excitement surrounding the World Under-23 Champs trials races and, of course, the races themselves. Instead of posting up an Adventures in Wonderland Part 2 like I said I would, I'm gonna put that on hold for a bit and give a you some insight into the roller coaster of emotions that trials 2014 was for me.

With Canada's top U23 and junior skiers vying for spots on one team or another, the trials races are as important--if not more important--than the Canadian national championship races later in the season. Add to this the fact that this year the U23 trials races are also the Sochi Olympic trials races, and you get every high-level xc skier in Canada peaking for the mid-January race weekend.
My big goal for this season was to qualify for world U23 champs, so at the end of December, with two weeks to go before the big competition, I made it my mission to do everything I could be to be ready for the U23 trials races. I napped everyday, I aimed for over 10 hours of sleep each night, I stretched and foam rolled, I did some hard intensity and I went over and over the races, visualizing technique and tactics in my mind. On January 8th, the night before the first race, I went to bed feeling calm. I had prepared more thoroughly than ever before for these races. I told myself: "tomorrow I am going to have the best race of my life."

Now, at the end of this story there is good, and there is bad. In similar situations, I always ask for the bad first, so, here it is...
The bad: I didn't make the world U23 Champs team. It sucks. When you train for 9months with a specific goal in your sights and then you don't achieve that goal it's pretty hard to take. The things is, if you are setting high goals for yourself chances are you aren't gonna achieve all of them.
One of my endeavours as an athlete is to also be a stoic. Through the good and the bad I try to be philosophical: to not be afraid to fail, to not get hung-up on my victories and to learn what I can from both failures and victories and then leave them behind me. This is hard for me to do sometimes because I have a bit of a roller coaster personality--my highs are soaring and my lows are crushing. Even when I know what I have to do and how I have to behave, it's hard to get back up and keep going.
Well, it's taken me a couple days and a lot of iPod time, but I've finally come to terms with the this failure and I'm looking ahead again instead of behind. As I friend of mine wrote in her blog, you gotta always look for the positives--and what's the positive I can take away from this? Getting knocked down makes me motivated. In each race for the rest of the year I will be racing angry, and for the whole 2014 off-season I will be training with more determination than ever before. 2015 World U23s? Watch out.

The good: Now that I'm on the topic of positives, I really did achieve a lot in the last week of racing. In fact, what I told myself on the evening of the 8th came true. I had my best ever result--placing 9th, 2nd U23, in the classic 15km on January 9th (ha, cool, I only just realized the result and the date are the same)--and then I stepped it up again in my next race, a skate sprint race on the 11th. Here's how it went down...
I am very confident in my skate sprint qualifiers. I knew what I had to do the morning of the 11th, I raced relaxed and I qualified in 10th place.
The heats were the tricky part. In the two sprint races I had already done this season I had made some serious tactical errors in the heats. With sprint races in Canmore being almost always decided at the finish (because of a long downhill near the end that, through drafting, tends to close any gaps in the field) so I knew that the sprints here were going to be especially tactical--I'd have to ski smart. I planned to ski relaxed and easy, conserve energy and, unless I thought I could get a big enough lead on the last hill, save it for the finish.
The first heat went perfectly. I skied in the pack until the last downhill, drafted my way to near the front and went on to the semi finals without any trouble. In the semi final I used pretty much the same tactics for the first part of the race, but then ended up near the front on the last uphill before the big downhill at the end. Cresting the uphill, me and my teammate Phil were right at the front of the pack and nobody wanted to lead and get drafted on the downhill. The pace slowed... and then Phil put in a hard sprint over the top of the hill! I jumped in behind him and we opened a small gap between us and the rest of the field. The two of us managed to keep the gap right down the finish straight, and so I went on to my first ever A-final in the senior age category!! I was psyched. In the A-final I finished 5th, 3rd place U23, gaining my first ever NORAM podium! I think I looked like a bit of an idiot at the podium: most excited guy to finish 5th ever.
I'm in the yellow hat on the far right! Yay for 5th! Cool fact: this entire podium is Alberta World Cup Academy athletes.
Finally, on Sunday it was the 30km skiathlon (where you switch from classic to skate skis halfway through). With two solid first races I was easily in contention for qualifying for U23s before this race, but I just couldn't stay with the lead group. I had my worst result of the weekend and ended up just missing the qualifying spot. Oh well.

Check out and search "NORAM" for full results from the weekend.

All disappointment aside, it was a bit of a break-through race weekend for me, finishing not only top 10, but top 5 for the first times ever. Most importantly, I learned a lot and I'm very much looking forward to my next race weekend--Eastern Canadian Championships--back home in Cantley Quebec. Maybe I'll see you there.

Dream Big!

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