Friday, February 21, 2014

Games Fever

We're on day 14 of the Olympic Games and there have been a few really exciting performances by the Canadians. Yesterday the women's curling team won gold, with the Canadian men following suit this morning. There were also two alpine skiers who placed first and second: pretty cool stuff.
Admittedly, I feel some sort of loyalty to the men's curling team in particular as they are, most of them, from my home town. Our little humble city has struck gold and it is super exciting. The chances for gold will continue on into the 2014 Paralympic Games starting on March 7th, when an alpine skier-guided by his brother- from our city will start his Paralympic experience. There have been some good athletes grown in this city; it makes you wonder what's in the water and why hasn't the country noticed? In a city of sixty thousand or so to have so many Olympians and Paralympians, there must be something going on; either that or we have nothing better to do but participate in sport. ;)
Watching the men's curling team win gold this morning also got me fired up about my own sporting future. Sometimes it's easy to lose sight, pardon the choice of words, of the whole picture when you are out on the ski trails four to five times a week with no one but you and your coach to notice. It's been a cold winter, this week being the first time we've skied in temperatures above minus 10 C. It's also easy to give up when you can't get to competitions because the resources just aren't there. It makes you question whether or not you should continue: will I be able to get to the next race?
That said, this week we've had four really good days out skiing. After about a week and a half of fighting off the worst case of the creeping crud I have ever had, getting back outside in the fresh air and working hard was a welcomed change. We eased back in with only a 4 K ski on Sunday and the other skis not exceeding 5 K, but we got a lot accomplished. Our two last trips out we skied one of the more challenging trail systems and even though it's only 5 K, it's uphill for at least half of it; if not more. Yesterday in particular, we moved at a quicker pace, there weren't any falls and our communication was excellent. Both times on that trail I made it down the steepest hill without falling which has never happened before. We're making progress and that encourages me.
With the last couple of good days out coupled with watching the Olympics, my desire for making the 2018 Games has been intensified.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Where Am I At?

It was all going so well. The week we got back from Nationals Coach T and I attacked one of the more technically challenging trail systems. We skied probably about 10 K and it felt good; hard, but good. The sun was shining that day despite the air being cold and the tracks were fantastic; especially considering what we slogged through at Nationals on the last day. We communicated well and it made the ski that much more enjoyable. There was a point when there was a giant clump of moss/dirt in the right track and Coach T only had time to say, "lift your right foot." I did and I sailed cleanly over what otherwise would have clogged up the bottom of my ski. It was a pretty cool feeling.
We also had a good skate ski the following day. I was pretty sore from climbing hills the day before and so we had to stop a few times in the beginning for me to stretch. However, we went 6 K, the furthest I've gone skate skiing. We also were moving at a much quicker pace than before even though it was cold out. Skate skis move better when the temperatures are warmer. So, skate skiing when it's cold out and going faster than before, makes me very happy.
Then it hit. One of the worst colds I have had...ever.
Coach T had said to take Friday off since I was so sore and tired. I didn't realise then that I was so tired, not really from the physical activity, but from the cold I was fighting off. Friday morning I woke up and knew something was wrong and it only got worse from there.
Saturday and Sunday came with a fever/aches/swollen glands Etc and it progressed all week long. It's now more than a week since I first felt this thing coming on and I'm still congested and coughing up gross stuff. That means, I haven't been skiing in that much time. :(
Despite the congestion and the plugged ears, I think I'm ready to go out now. My lung capacity may be reduced a bit, but my energy is back to normal and I am ready to get back out there. Coach T and I have agreed to go out tomorrow and even though I'm raring to go mentally, I think we will take it easy on the distance to ensure I ease back in and don't have to take any more time off. A short ski tomorrow that leads to another the next day is much more productive than a long ski tomorrow that leads to me taking Monday/Tuesday off because I am recovering again.
Oh, the delicate balance of sport.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Race Day 3: A Different Kind of Trouble

Day 3 was supposed to be great. Day 3 was when I was supposed to classic ski. Admittedly, I was a bit intimidated by the 7.5 K distance, but I knew I could do it with a little grit and stubbornness.
Race day 3 was not great. I think I still may be traumatised. However, there is a silver lining to every cloud, right? But I have to tell you about the cloud before we get to the silver part.
First of all, we had originally thought the race was in the morning and had planned on driving home right after. I was very much looking forward to getting home. So, that was a small disappointment. A few other weird things happened that morning-I can't quite remember, a glass breaking in the sink or my ski boots not cooperating. Just strange things that made me kind of wonder: maybe we should just drive home right now. Part of me wishes we had, another part-the crazy competitive, athletic side of me-was glad we didn't.
The Para Nordic standing women were the last event to run that day. This meant that the three nicely groomed tracks had been obliterated. There were bits of track here and there, smooshed together or completely wiped out. There were a lot of lumps and bumps and so much fluffy snow since it had snowed the night before. Eighty percent of the time I had no idea if I was skiing in the right direction. It was a course that required us to go around three times and I was totally tempted to take my skis off after the first loop and walk away. The only thing that stopped me was the crowds of people lining the edge of the tracks, cheering me on. I couldn't take my skis off in front of those people and just quit. So, I continued on, through the mess that used to be a ski racing tracks.
It was exhausting. Sure in a fitness sense, but more so in a mental sense. I had to concentrate so hard just to keep moving. Every time we entered the stadium we past the loud speaker where the announcer was blasting away about something and every time we skied by I lost track of Coach T's voice. Without the tracks, it was difficult to keep moving. A lot of the verbal cues we had practised were completely useless. Coach T would tell me to snow plough with a particular ski when going down a hill, presuming the other foot was in a track. Half the time I didn't know which foot was where and if it was even in a track. Sometimes I would just snow plough with both feet and help in the further destruction of the ski tracks. Falling wasn't even a concern anymore; just going straight, or right or left when necessary, was. Aside from my own sheer stubbornness, the people lining the tracks in the stadium cheering really kept me going. Even though I was the last athlete to come in, there were still people waiting for me-people I didn't even know. This was so different from when I used to swim. The stands would empty out and races would finish spectatorless. Despite the lack of tracks and one of the most frustrating things I have ever done, finishing that race with people still there restored some of my drive. The experience was difficult, but it was still rewarding. Not only do I now know that i could complete pretty much course, but I had managed to score some points for the province of Ontario which will go to ranking Ontario overall in the country. That is pretty cool.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Race Days 1 and 2: Troublemaker

Yesterday was my first day of racing at the Para Nordic Nationals. Each day there is one event, a definite change from when I was swimming. Most days as a swimmer I swam at least two races a day; plus finals. However, I think I am glad that this particular event has been run this way. One race a day is good enough for me right now.
We kicked off our weekend of racing with a 1.25 kilometre skate ski race. This would be considered a sprint event. We arrived nearly 2 hours before our race which I felt was a bit much, but it did allow me to get a sense of what an actual ski racing venue was like on race day. The sun was out and the temperatures were the mildest I have experienced this winter; perfect skate ski temperatures. We skied the race course once so that both Coach T and I had an idea of what we were doing. The warm-up was, quite frankly, a disaster. There was a lot going on and it was difficult to concentrate-I think both of us struggled a bit. At one point Coach T stopped talking so that he could figure out what direction to go and I skied off the course into some V-boards or a fence. I'm not quite sure what it was. All I know is that I went down on one knee. When I get into situations like that I panic a bit and blurted out,
"that is why we never stop talking!" I didn't mean to be so rude, but it was reactionary. Something for me to work on. I fell on nearly every single hill during warm-up as well even though they really weren't that challenging. But, that is why you do warm-up, right? Since it was about my fifth time out on skate skis I didn't expect any miracles, but I did actually go a lot faster than I have in the past. All it took was one other skier passing me and my competitiveness kicked in. Of course I knew realistically there was no way I was going to be even close to winning, but if I was going to be last, I was at least going to work hard at it. We joked later that I threw off Coach T's race plan as I kept pushing him from behind and shouting, "hurry," "go, go go," or "aaaahhh, look out" when hurtling down a hill. I don't know what our time was, but we crossed the finish lines with no falls and, as I said above, faster skate skiing than I have ever done. I was really happy with the race.
After crossing the finish line we were offered warmed up Gatoraid and I gratefully accepted. Our photo was taken and then one of the Ontario coaches approached us with a concern.
"How long have you been skate skiing?!" She exclaimed.
To be honest, I was taken aback by the question. I thought a coach would give me trouble for using short skate ski poles. I was using my classic poles instead of skate poles because as of right now, that is what I feel comfortable with. I kind of spluttered a bit and then expalined that it hadn't been that long. It turns out that she was concerned about whether I was comfortable skate skiing or not and that the national coaches had said to teach one technique a year to ensure athletes didn't get frustrated. I really appreciated her concern, but I actually like skate skiing. It terrifies me a bit, but when I do it right and my whole body is cooperating with my brain, it feels so good. I joked with Coach T later in the van that I was always causing trouble.
Unlike yesterday's event which started around 2 PM, today's race was bright and early. Para Nordic athletes were the first athletes out. I had gone to bed excited about the morning's race, but when I woke up I was a bit worried. One of my ears was completely plugged. Plugged to the point that I could hear myself breathing in my own head. I had had an outer ear infection in this ear about a week back and although the pain was gone it had remained partially plugged. But this was a whole new meaning to plugged. In order to follow my guide I need to be able to hear. Having one ear plugged changed my centre of gravity as well as made my guide's voice sound off centred. I sought out the first aid people at the race venue to see if there was anything they could do, but they said there wasn't. I considered not racing, but we had driven so far. I asked Coach T to talk to the coaches from Para Nordic Ontario and see what they had to say. I had two concerns:
1. Not being able to follow Coach T and getting into the way of another racer and potentially inuring me or others.
2. Finishing so slowly because I was being careful that other races couldn't continue.
The coaches said that if I felt that I could be safe that my time didn't matter. So, I decided to race. I found a fellow Para Nordic skier who wasn't racing today and asked him to keep Nala while we were racing and we were off.
Tday's temperatues were much colder than yesterday's, by about ten degrees and I opted to leave extra layers on. Part way threw the race I fought the urge to rip my hat off my head because my head was so warm, but toehrwise I was happy about keeping extra clothes on. Our race consisted of two laps around a 2.5 kilometre route which added up to the 5 K that we needed. I would say that the first lap went okay. I was struggling to re-adjust my perception of where Coach T's voice should be in order for me to follow right behind him. There were a lot of skiers passing us and at one point I panicked and skied myself too close to the edge. My ski went off the track and into some fluffy snow and bush where I stayed hung up for a minute or two. I was a little hesitant on some of the downhills knowing that they had turns and my perception of Coach T's voice location was off. I think it takes time for Coach T to get warmed up too because he kept using vague directions like "a little bit left" and then stopped talking when he is supposed to say "left" repatedly until around the turn. There were also a few times where he just said, "a tiny bit" or "a little bit" and my panic took over again and I shouted,
"a little bit what? I don't care how much, just tell me which way!"
However, as we finished off our first lap I started feeling better and found a groove. The hill transitions went much better and I made turns easily. There were even a  few times when I yelled "hurry" or "coming through" to Coach T as I let the speed of the hills carry me through. I think the second lap went much better. We ha da small fall on the first one when we past the loud speaker and the announcer decided to take the opportunity to blast me out with some announcement. I lost Coach T's voice for long enough that I swerved left, away from the booming loud speaker, and my left ski dropped into a classic ski track: I went down for a split second. But, that was the only fall. I'm still learning the actual technique of skate skiing and on the second lap there were times when my feet and skis were going too fast for my arms. So, instead of slowing down, I just let my legs do the work and caught my arms up once I had re-established my rhythm. So where did I get into trouble?
Somehow, Coach T got mixed up on where the course turned within the stadium and on both laps we missed the actual turn by 20 metres. This meant we didn't ski 40 metres of the course and we were disqualified. Woops. Honestly, we really didn't lose anything from the disqualification. I was dead last anyway and we got to race, so I'm not too upset about it. It's all a part of the learning process. Besides, no point on dwelling on it when we have another race tomorrow which a 7.5 kilometre classic race. The official who told me I was disqualified made sure to point out the correct turning point for tomorrow's race. We weren't the only athlete to have difficulties there and be disqualified. I think he wanted to make sure everyone had successful races tomorrow. I wonder what kind of trouble I can get into tomorrow.