A bitter cold start to the competitive season. I mean the temperatures, not my racing. November 1st not only marked the beginning of the eleventh month but the unofficial official start to the 2017-2018 season and a relatively extreme cold period. As a few nights went as low as -20oc and chilling winds lowered the mercury even further. The first week of November was a rude awakening with those cold temperatures. It felt still colder as I had had no time to acclimatize to cooling temperatures. It was average Autumn weather then boom, full-on Winter! Frozen Thunder first played host to a Classic Sprint; in a King’s Court format. Meaning that after the qualification round every one male, female, senior or junior would be grouped in heats of four based on their qualifying times. Every athlete is also guaranteed three heats, instead of only the fastest two of each heat moving forward and the rest being eliminated. I love this format; it allows me to race four sprints in a day. I usually only get that opportunity at World Cups. I compete against others that are around my speed. This, in turn, means tight racing and the need to maneuver in a group of skiers. The qualification race was my big focus going into the event. I have struggled in the past with finding my speed in that first race. I was successful in having a great qualifying race. I skied well enough in the following two heats, but I wasn’t moving that well. I couldn’t lengthen my stride or get the power that I wanted. In the final sprint of the day, I just focused on lengthening my stride and being more compact in my double pole. I felt that I was coming around again in that final heat.
Two days later was the second Frozen Thunder race, a Freestyle Distance race (~12km for the Men). I chose to skip this race in favor of racing twice the following week. A day after I drove out to Lake Louise to ski for the first time this season on Moraine Lake Road. Which was about a week earlier than most years. The lower section of the road was snow covered but just. The road underneath is paved, and each pole plant went right down to the pavement. Still good skiing. Then as I climbed just a little higher, the conditions improved. The upper section was terrific. There was no longer any indication that a paved road was below. It was beautiful skiing.
Last week was an exciting week. The first Biathlon races of the season; Biathlon Canada National Team Trials. Essentially selection races for any European trips, World Cup or IBU Cup, as well as the Junior IBU Cup. To work on different aspects of my shooting, I was using my .22 instead of my usual Air rifle. Along with this choice comes some extra baggage! I wear a prosthetic arm to shoot with the .22, and I carry the rifle. Carrying the rifle and arm is something I don’t do a lot, and so I felt that while I was racing. The first race my focus was on my transition from skiing to shooting along with the setup for shooting. The first prone was going well until on my fourth shot when I had a lapse in focus, thinking about what I had to do next, I missed. Then in standing, I wasn’t use to skiing that hard onto the mat and shooting from the standing position. I managed to hit the first two, then missed two before hitting the fifth. I knew to be somewhat competitive I needed to be clean and that didn’t happen. I made several small little mistakes here and there, but they added up.
The next race was once again a Biathlon Sprint. Learning from the previous day, I only made slight adjustments and that paid off. By no means were my shooting times quick but they were clean! I was smooth and consistent throughout my prone bout. I was relying on my experience in shooting focusing on the process rather than the result. I hit all five of them. I was feeling marginally faster on the snow than the last race. Again coming into the standing bout, I wasn’t comfortable, but I recognized that and took control. I took the standing one target at a time. On the fifth, I have to admit I didn’t see the target come up, I squeezed the trigger and was rushing to get the rifle on my back again. I did hear the distinctive and glorious sound of a hit target. To confirm what I heard, a spectator from the crowd yelled out “Way to go Mark!” Good enough for me, as I headed out to ski the final lap.
It feels great to be racing on snow again. A lot of the pieces are falling together, that is all I can ask for at this point in the year. A bit of a more relaxed week this week before the first official races take place November 25-26 here in Canmore. First up is a Biathlon NorAm. The following weekend there are two Cross Country races here in Canmore as part of the Alberta Cup series. Less then a week later the IPC World Cup begins! Exciting but busy times!