The start of the 2020 year was one of the more challenging for me that I’ve experienced in my years competing. I finished 2019, feeling very positive about the work I had put in through the training season. I felt strong and surprised myself with the speed I could generate in the first World Cup. A great start to the season. January, on the other hand, was a very frustrating month. I came into the World Cup in Dresden, then Altenberg, Germany prepared for some adversity. City-sprints always have an element of adversity. I expected that, but I planned ways to deal with that. As we arrived, those plans were severely interrupted, and I wasn’t sure anymore what I needed to be doing. Altenberg, which is about 45 minutes away from Dresden (and venue for the distance races later in the week), was where I had planned to be training through the weekend before competing in Dresden on Monday. Altenberg had very little snow. And the local organizers were forced to cancel all training there. After anticipating not be able to ski on the Dresden (600m) Sprint course at all until Monday in the warm-up. Friday, Saturday and Sunday’s training were 45-minute slots on the Dresden loop. To maintain a little volume in my training, I would run through the city and found some great roller skiing in the end, along the Elbe river. My legs were not used to running one; with Canmore’s stellar winter season, I hadn’t run that much since early November and two on hard pavement. The legs were taking a bit of a beating in those first few days.
I was excited about the Dresden course. It set up to what I thought was my strength with a flatter finish, requiring finishing power. That was a big cause for my frustration with this World Cup. Despite not training in an abundance, I felt strong, snappy and decently recovered from travelling over to Europe. With seeing the course as suiting me, I was very disappointed in my performance on race day. I qualified but poorly. Going into the semis, I refocused, knowing I had to do better, but now was my opportunity to do so. I could not force any positive reaction from my body. I was outskied and did not move on, and I was bothered more, then I should have been by that. Whether or not it's true, I felt I had just completed one of my worst results in some time. I was frustrated by the difference in what I felt, and I was capable of in performance. In a bid to find any form, I roller-skied for a long time after the race to build up the training hours in preparation for the upcoming races.
That evening we departed Dresden and moved to Altenberg. The following day’s competition had already been postponed to Wednesday. On Tuesday, we would get an opportunity to see what course the organizers in Altenberg were able to create. Well, it was something. A 580m course that included skiing through the range, an over/under bridge section and a slight downhill into a 180◦ turn. I felt comfortable enough on the course and focused on some Cross-country race the following day. The lack of snow made it impossible to have a Classic race, so we had a Freestyle ~6km — ten laps of the course. My struggle to transfer the power I thought I had into the snow continued. I would end up at the tail-end of the leaders. (Now that I look at the results, a month later I realized I was the fourth fastest real-time, but once the calculations are finished that was what moved me to eighth). I knew there were improvements, but I still felt I was way further behind where I needed or wanted to be. My pacing was very consistent. I needed to be a few seconds faster on each lap to contest against the eventual winner. I was again disappointed in the result but could feel the performance was improving and going the right direction as racing now turned to Biathlon.
You learn some of the best, but hardest lessons at rock bottom, or on your ass, mid-race. Two days later, I started the first of the Biathlon competitions in Altenberg. The format of the race was to ski two shortened laps (excluding the range) then complete a full lap, ending with a shooting bout in the range. Repeat that and once again but ending in the finish just before the range entry. Two bouts of shooting, a total distance of about 4.8km, and because there was no snow for a penalty loop, a 20sec penalty for any missed shots. I relished the idea of this race. A short, hard effort in skiing then because of the time added a harsher penalty for missed shots. This was set up well for me.
Well, I squandered that opportunity! In my first time into the range, I missed two shots. Very uncharacteristic of me and was so mad at myself. I skied out that range so enraged with myself. I rage-skied. Moments later, I learned that wasn’t going to work either. As I took much greater speed than previous times into the 180, I wasn’t ready to deal with the additional speed and an unfocused mind. Catching the tip of my ski in the last part of the corner, I went down in a complete turtle. I bounced quickly, realizing I wasn’t helping myself by how I was skiing, and I was unfocused.
My coach was a few metres down the course; I shook my head, struggled my shoulders, knowing perfectly well how stupid I had been. At the same time, it was the wake-up call to start doing what I needed to be focused on finally. I was fairly pleased with how I finished the race from then on. In part, I knew I was out of that race and relaxed, which meant I skied a much better race after all the trouble. And shot clean in the second bout. I was still furious. I had missed two and let a spectacular opportunity go to waste — a further disappointment for the trip. I went for a run to cool-down and explored a little more of the Altenberg facility. To let out some frustrations, I did get into a yelling match with a tree over the stupid mistakes I had been making. I was pleasantly shocked to find out despite what felt little a horrible race for me; I still had earned a fifth-place finish. The best thing I took away from the race was my performance in the second half. From that, I believed I could compete against the best there. Along with the countless other hard lessons learned that week. I had one more opportunity to perform. The following day would be a repeat of the competition. A do-over to get it right!
I started that final race believing I was one of the top competitors and was going out to prove it. I finally put it all together in a race — aggressive skiing and entry into the range. While I came into the range a little hotter than before, I was more confident in my shooting. That confidence showed by going clean in both bouts. The focus on the course was there again as well. I attacked the course when and where I needed to but was in control in the sections where that was needed. I ended the day with the second-fastest ski time and coupled with the clean shooting finished second. After what had been a very trying week, perhaps the most trying World Cup I’ve ever experienced. I was finally finding the groove, and the event was over. I had the taste of what I needed to do. I was hungry for more, but that was the end of the trip. That hunger would have to wait until the next time. That would be in March at World Para Nordic Skiing’s first-ever a Biathlon-only World Championships in Ostersund, Sweden. Followed by this season’s World Cup Finals in Ostersund as well.