A few days after our training camp at Forêt Montmorency Petr and I flew to Kelowna, in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Our journey was rather complicated and involved driving through rush hour in downtown Toronto to pick up a new passport, arriving just 45 minutes before our flight, having flights delayed and rerouted because of a snowstorm, and discovering that our box with waxing supplies arrived cracked open after the arduous journey. We managed to succeed in picking up our rental car before the shop closed for the night and headed north through Vernon towards Silverstar mountain. This peak rises to 1915m, and is well known for reliable snowfall, often of beautiful powdery snow. Near 1700m is where the racing trails of the Sovereign Lake Nordic Ski Centre can be found.
Arriving four days before racing was nice becuase it allowed me to work on technique, do some intervals, learn the climbs and turns on the racecourse and test skis and waxes. Shortly after our arrival the weather took a turn for the colder and temperatures dropped as low as -24C at one point. Fortunately I have been on a number of serious winter camping trips in Quebec so I am not too bothered by the cold, and I have my clothing layering well worked out for skiing in the cold. My main concern was that racing might be cancelled, since I can’t afford to miss races as the end of the Sochi qualification period (January. 19th) is rapidly approaching. In the end race starts were delayed but racing continued as temperatures rose just slightly above -20C with midday sunshine.
Saturday brought the first race of the NorAM Continental Cup racing series – a 15km skating race. The cold temperatures result in very sharp snow crystals with little moisture in the snowpack. This in turn means that skis glide very slowly and produce a distinct creaking sound as they move over the snow.
The night before the race I watched “The Big Lebowski” which has the following quotation near the end: “Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear, well, he eats you.” Unfortunately as it turned out, Saturday was one of those days when the bear ate me. I finished quite far behind the winners and wasn’t too pleased with my race. The slow glide and cold temperatures resulted in over 15% of the field not starting, or not completing the race, so I don’t think I was the only one who had a bad day!
The race covered three laps of a 5km course. The first kilometre and a half of the loop was more or less a consistent uphill which took a lot out of me. This was my first proper race of the season, and a bit of a harsh reminder of how painful cross country skiing can be. I felt quite tired during the race and did a poor job of skiing strongly over the tops of hills and in technique transitions. The “magic number” for me these days is 300 – I need to ski five races with an FIS points average (the fewer points, the better the result) below 300 to be eligible to qualify for Sochi. This race came in at 305 points. Definitely not how I wanted to start off my season, but it’s close enough that a decent race will bring me below 300 again quickly. As my coach said, you need to learn as much as possible from a bad race, as opposed to letting it break your spirit.
On Sunday I raced a 1.4km classic sprint. Sprints are definitely not my favourite type of race (especially in the classic style). They are tricky because technique and transitions need to be flawless throughout the race since there is precious little time to make up lost ground. Sprints are run individually, and then the top 30 skiers advance to heats of 6 skiers where racing becomes more interesting, tactical and more fun. Though sprints are not my focus this season, I am still racing them to gain race experience, and to go through the routine of preparing for a race and skiing hard. Since I didn’t advance in the morning, Petr and I had lunch and returned for an afternoon interval workout to make the best of the day.
Monday was our traditional rest day, Tuesday brought more interval work and lots of uphill skiing. I am feeling healthy and energized by the good training I have done after the races. I can’t wait to race in Rossland BC next weekend, and I’m eager to see if moving to a race site at lower elevation will bring me more energy to race with!