Tour de Ski Reflections
I think this year's tour provided me with one of the biggest rollercoasters of my career. Every aspect of elite sport requires a learning process and I seem to be one that has to have all the experiences to really learn. It's so easy to think that once "I win a race" or once "I make my goal", everything will be easy, but there is also a learning curve to success and I think I just took my crash course in that!
First off, finding the balance between letting all the emotions and feelings come out while keeping one foot on the ground can be difficult, both in the best of times and worst of times. After such an incredible weekend racing in Davos, I was definitely on cloud 9 and when you are that excited, training is easy and fatigue doesn't come quick. I had such a good training block in Davos and whether I overdid things a bit or whether my subconscious was working to protect me or whether this was just life or whether is was actually part of the plan, I will never know, but heading into the Tour, I started feeling tired, achy, and just generally subpar. I adjusted, talked with my coach, made a plan for entering the Tour and pressed on.
This was lesson 1 of the Tour which is a lesson that I am well aware of, but it never hurts to be reminded. I do not have to have the most amazing feelings in the world to have a good race. I had to trust the plan we made for the Christmas break and just go for it. My legs felt pretty bad the entire time in Val Mustair and I still had some very good races. I made a final in the sprint for only the 2nd time in my career, I tied my best ever classic distance race, and I found myself on another podium and making history to boot with a 1-2 finish with Jessie (the first time the American women have gone 1-2 in a race). Feeling more optimistic, we moved onto Toblach.
Interval starts are my favorite races so the 10k in Toblach was one I had my eyes on as my best opportunity to make time in the overall. I attacked the race as so and while it wasn't a perfect race, I was able to use some of the skills I worked on a lot this summer and find myself on another podium and another 1-2 finish with Jessie. This was all just seeming too good to be true. From there on out though, I knew the races were less to my liking and were going to require a lot of inner strength. The classic pursuit start in Toblach was the first test. I decided to ski with optimism and start hard to see what was possible. However, Jessie and I both got caught by the two behind us and worked really hard to hang tough in that pack. I suffered a little at the end and lost some time, but was proud of my effort. Tour racing is largely about minimizing loses as not every day can be your best.
Moving to Val di Fiemme, I found my low and unfortunately, it was more like a bottomless pit then a little dip. I still don't really know what went wrong, but nothing really seemed to go quite right so I think I have to chalk it up to just one of those days. I got in a little tangle up early on that put me in the back of the field. I was stressed about the bonus seconds and likely wasted too much energy trying to catch up too quickly when my body just didn't have much in it. I struggled with my skis a bit and I found myself getting cold out there which is also an energy drain. While I can say that there are a lot of things I could have done better that day, I can also say that there was never a point in which I gave up in that race. I was trying my absolute hardest until the end and was doing everything I could at the time to minimize my loses. Unfortunately, that sometimes is not enough. I was absolutely devastated and I really felt like I had let the world down that day. It's been a feeling that's been hard to shake despite so many people reaching out to express support. I believe this is one of the biggest lessons in learning how to be successful. While carrying pride and feeling all your support with you can absolutely help you dig deep, it can also carry a lot of weight that can make hard times harder and finding that balance is such a key part of racing. I've had to remind myself that I race to challenge myself and see what's possible, but a challenge wouldn't be a challenge if it was easy. There will always be those hard days, but what makes me someone worth supporting is how I react to those days and what I do next. My entire career has been about persevering through tough times and never giving up so at this point in the tour, I chose to live to that standard and do what I could to (quickly) turn things around and be the person that I am proud of and the person I hope inspires people to not give up. Because again, there is no result that defines me, but there are actions that will.
With that, I tried to work with what my body had, be smart, and finish the tour as best I could. I found myself having to work into the classic sprint a bit with a body that was tired, but focused on the skills I have practiced and found myself in the semi-finals. This was my first ever semi-final in a classic sprint! I tried to do the same in the semi, but the pace was a little too hot and I just didn't have the power to make the move I planned, but it was certainly a step in the right direction and a personal best at that.
The final climb is my favorite stage. I love it because of it's simplicity, you just have to put one foot in front of the other until you get to the top. It also is such a good feeling to cross that line after so many days of racing. I have had some good climbs in the past so I had some high hopes heading into the day. The race starts going around the 2.5km race course before heading onto the Marcialonga trail, a narrow trail along the valley, until you reach the climb. Not known for my fast starts, but wanting to be towards the front for the narrow section, I tried hard to work my way up, but didn't get quite as far as I had hoped. On the narrow trail, I tried to make a pass and stuck my tip into the powder on the side and fell....really dumb on my part. I quickly got back up and found myself at the end of the front pack, not the end of the world, but not ideal either. I worked to maneuver around a few people and then when we hit the base of the climb, I really went for it. Everyone does that so if you miss the pack you want to ski in, it's a real bummer...I missed the first two but did find a group to work with. I had a moment of doubt on one of the steeper sections and let a few ski away before re-seting and reminding myself of the opportunity to move up in the overall. I pushed with all I had the rest of the way to the top. Because it's a mass start format, I had no idea if I had moved up in the overall or not. Eventually, I learned that I had moved up a place, but missed moving up one more by 4 seconds. This was a very bittersweet moment as 4 seconds after 8 days of racing is not much, but I was also only ahead of the person behind me by a very slim margin. I guess that's racing and why Tour racing is so difficult because every second over some 8 days and 70km of racing really matters.
I think it will take some time to shake off that bad day and I'm ok with that because I love the challenge of improving. There were also so many things to be proud of throughout the Tour! I know the things I did well will help me have more good races and if I can learn from the the things I didn't do as well, I will find even more improvement.
Lastly, I have been reminded how easy it is to get wrapped up in checking boxes. I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would be wearing the yellow bib and yet, I found myself putting so much pressure on myself to keep a bib I never even planned on wearing. This all ties back into the love of a challenge and again reminding myself of the challenge itself that is the enjoyable part, not the box you check when you conquer one. So with that, I am taking this post-tour time to recovery both mentally and physically and will be ready to fight again soon!