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Uphill Battles

And with that, the 2023 racing year comes to an end; good night…


Over the weekend, I competed in my final race of 2023. It was fitting that it was a race that I couldn't even think about racing twelve months ago. I was still recovering post-surgery and could barely classic ski, let alone race. I'm satisfied with Sunday's race, but if I had to describe the weekend in a couple of words, they would be missed opportunities.

Alberta Cup #2, Canmore PC: Doug Stephen

The season-opening Alberta Cup was in Canmore this weekend, with a Freestyle Sprint on Saturday and a 7.5km Classic Mass Start on Sunday. Sprints are probably the format I feel is my weakest. Making tactical decisions in the moment and being able to shift direction and maneuver quickly are not necessarily my strengths. And I look for opportunities to work on them and practice. But here's my dilemma: if the field is strong and deep. I usually don't race because the day would be a 3-minute effort in qualifying, but I'm not fast enough against Canada's (or America's) best skiers. In most cases, it's not worth the effort to do just a qualifier. On the other side, if the field is small or less deep, it's hard to get the quality of head-to-head racing that I'm looking for. Yes, I know I'm too picky!

There weren't many Open Men registered for the Alberta Cup, and with an already heavy racing schedule so far this season and probably not a great Sprint field, I decided not to register for the Sprint and focus solely on Sunday's distance race. Of course, on Friday evening, I learned that Saturday's Sprint would be run in a King's Court format. That guarantees a prologue and three heats of six skiers of similar speed. The heats now included U20 and Open, Women and Men. That would have been a fun and worthwhile race. I was bummed to have passed on that without genuinely looking into it: a missed opportunity but my fault for assuming the format.

I did have the classic distance race to look forward to. The race would be on the tough Canmore Olympic & World Cup course (probably one of the toughest in the world). This means there is a ton of striding and fast descents, and to my delight, limited flat or double pole terrain. The Mass Start isn't always my favourite format; something about double poling off the start doesn't work well for me. I was relaxed and knew I didn't have to charge off the start because the field would bunch together on the first climb. In the warm-up, I had a new experience of testing the grip wax, from the start of the process to the final race choice. I had confidence in what I chose. I can learn much more in that testing process, but I believe I selected the grip I needed. But that's classic; sometimes, the most subtle change can make your chosen grip next to useless. Immediately up the first climb, I could tell something was off. I didn't have the grip I had in the warm-up. Occasionally, some grip waxers need to be 'skied in' a little or a shift in the skier's position for them to work better. I worked through both of those scenarios, but it didn't change. That quickly deflated my confidence and excitement for the race. I had always known it would be a tough race, but I relished the idea because it would be tough in ways that are suited to my strengths. By not having the ideal grip wax, those strengths were now impaired. It took a few moments to accept it wouldn't be the race I had hoped for, but what would I make of the remainder? I worked with the skis where I could; otherwise, I went into a running or the herringbone technique. I was pleasantly surprised that my herringbone felt as good as it did. It is not a technique you work on a lot. Nearing the end of the race, I caught a few of the other skiers who had gotten ahead of me, as my experience and fitness were coming along towards the end.

I had started the day wanting the result of my performance, but instead, I had to focus on achieving a performance first. I had to adapt and execute on the little details. However, I wanted the result to show I was back to my best in classic. That race would not be the opportunity for me to do so. It had been a busy past three weeks, and wrapping up the first competitive block feels good. Following Sunday's race, I find myself hungry for the next opportunity to race—the next chance to bring every aspect together to perform to the highest degree. I'll take an easier week while wrapping up the Fall semester with one last Final Exam. Around Christmas, I'll take advantage of the time off from school and put in some longer skis. I am refining my shooting, keeping it up to World Cup and World Championship standards. Breaking down the technique and work to improve any weaknesses or inefficiencies. Soon enough, the bells will be ringing in a new year. January will start with a few more local Canmore races before skipping across the pond for an Italian tour of training camps and back-to-back World Cups. A short return to Canmore before the season's focus, highlight, and peak comes with the Biathlon World Championships and World Cup Finals to be held on Canadian soil in Prince George, BC.

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