For me, it's fascinating how quickly October seems always to pass by. This year much of the first half was in Mammoth for a training camp before returning to Canmore. A few chill
days after the camp before everything shifted gears from the warmth of California to scraping skis. The Canmore Nordic Centre's Frozen Thunder made its annual return on October 18. The excitement of being back on snow was followed by the brief period of Bambi-isk awkwardness for the first few minutes of skiing. The undeniable look at the skis to make sure you, in fact, were using skate skis to skate because they felt way too long. Eventually, you start to find the groove; the muscles remember the feeling of skiing. Boom! The sudden reminder that snow or ice is slippery, as you almost eat it. Or the first minute's of classic skiing, trying to remember how to kick on snow, which looks more like a poor imitation of the running man. Before finally, it starts coming back to you. Either way, you eventually end up at the 'this is awesome' part. Now the only worry is remembering how to go fast on snow.
Some days it all comes together for a spectacular performance. I was fortunate enough to have such a day last week at Biathlon Canada's National Team Trials. These races were Biathlon Canada's World Cup, IBU Cup and FISU selection races. This year, with several major events; a Canadian World Cup in December, a postponed World Championships in January, and the Paralympic Winter Games in March, I have focused on the air rifle. That includes competing with the air rifle, which I was allowed to do for these trials. I start with the rest of the field; I don't carry the rifle and use my lane, shooting an air rifle. Biathlon Canada allowed me this opportunity for early-season competitions.
The trials kicked off November with a bang. November 2 was a Biathlon Sprint, but without enough snow for a penalty loop, each miss would be a 22-second penalty. I had felt strong on the range that day, but a shift in the sun for my final bout changed something. The worst was I recognized that the sun would make a difference, but in the heat of the moment couldn't definitively decide what I needed to do to correct that difference. And so I decided to do nothing, thinking I was just paranoid. Yes, the following miss was my fault. I twitched while squeezing the trigger and pulled the shot out of the group. I believe the group had shifted because of the sunlight, but I also didn't take action. A lesson learned and a reminder as to why I'm racing so that I could shake off the racing rust.
My performance on course, however, was amazing. I felt fantastic, with lots of power, energetic and capable of good tempo. While on course, it was a calming mindset where the only thoughts were racing. I was making great tactical decisions. I felt strong in a few particular sections, stronger than others around me. Counter to that, I was aggressive in my weaker sections to minimize time lost. For the first official race of the season, it was a great start!
On November 4 was the second of two races, a Short Individual (15km with four bouts of shooting and 45seconds per miss). I had the confidence from the Sprint that my ski speed was good, but knowing that the race would be decided on the range. I had to go clean. For that exact reason is why I treasured this opportunity. I was using these races as an opportunity to put racing pressure on myself. I'm competitive with the best in the country, but there is absolutely no room to make mistakes—a true test of performance on demand. There might have been a moment or two where I wondered if I needed to be skiing faster, but most indicators I had and my feeling was that I was right where I wanted to be. I had sections that worked to my strengths and where I out-skied the best in the field. Where I was weaker, I focused on making the most of those again, limiting my losses as best I could.
The first two bouts felt natural, almost automatic. I didn't think about the shooting until I was about to enter for the third time. I decided that this bout was where I would make my move. Thinking that if I went clean here, I was setting myself up for the best possible result. As I set up on my mat, I was surrounded by other racers, something I hadn't experienced in quite some time. I noticed and adjusted what I needed to, but I went through the steps I needed for my shooting. Everything slowed down; I seemed to have extra time, able to think, analyze (not that either is good when shooting), but I felt in such control of the moment. Almost meditative. Sure, the bout would be a second longer, but I hit all five. Now I would go into the final bout, clean so far. In the final bout, I would need to take an extra breath midway through. Taking my second shot, I thought, 'that was risky,' so I took the extra breath and proceeded with my bout. So it took an extra second, but I went clean, which was more vital. Leaving the range, I was ecstatic, amped- shooting clean, and with the race, I'd had so far. Now it was one last all-out lap to the finish. That race felt like one of my greatest performances. A performance like that early in the season is a fantastic boost of confidence and a very recent reminder of what I want to achieve in the next races.
That feeling I didn't have in the next races. A week later were the Frozen Thunder races. The past several weeks of training caught up with me, along with the emotional high of the previous races combined, leaving me fatigued. I was looking forward to the first classic race of the season, but once I was in it. I struggled. The body was ok, but my headspace was off. I wasn't aggressive in my weaker areas to minimize time losses; I skied defeated. I skied the climbs well enough, but there was much to be desired in most other sections. That evening I refocused, knowing I needed to shift where my focus went and wanted to execute a much better performance the following day, a 15km Free. I am very pleased I did just that. I was moving better and had better decision-making. I seemed more engaged with my race that second day. Better aggression through my weaker areas, but I think my best has a step more. My body wasn't at its best, nor does it have to be right now. While I raced, I could sense there was more, but I couldn't use it. I describe it as a ceiling; I tried to stand taller (better performance), but this ceiling prevented me from doing so. I am familiar with this feeling, and it's a normal part of my training. It's just not fun to have when racing.
I have a short break away from the competition before the end of the month. When I ramp up again, leading into the first significant event, the season-opening World Cup, right here in the backyard, Canmore. After a year away, I'm looking forward to being back on the World Cup circuit and taking the steps I need on my way to March and the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games.