Sunday, February 28, 2010

Nationals in Canmore: 10 km free

We arrived in Canmore safe and more or less sound last night (I'm still a bit sick). Our travels were pretty uneventful and very smooth, thankfully. We settled in at the Rocky Mountain Ski Lodge as usual, where Patti and the team had supper ready for us. It's nice to be taken care of! Alexei, Robert and I also have a pretty spacious two-bedroom apartment suite all to ourselves. We really can't complain!

This morning we had our first of two races here in Canmore, a 10 km free technique. The course was a 2.5 km loop that we did 4 times. Last night, the national team coach, Kaspar, had told me to take the first two laps pretty easy and then pick it up on the last two, seeing as I've got a cold and the Paralympics are just around the corner. So that was what Robert and I did this morning. The race went very well. It was a pretty tough hilly course, and I'm glad we went slow on the first two laps. I think I might have died on the last two otherwise! As it was, I came in second after Robbi in my category, and third in the combined Blind and Limb Weakness category. I got $100 for being third, and I think this is the first ski race I ever won money in! Pretty cool!
We also had a little athletes and coaches' Meet and Greet and banquet, which were both pretty low key, but pleasant.

On a less pleasant note, we found out today that Brian McKeever won't get to race in the 50 km race at the Olympics tomorrow, because of a coach's decision to put in racers who are more likely to medal. We were all very upset by this decision, knowing that it has been Brian's dream for so long and how disappointed he must be. He was such an inspiration to so many across Canada and even beyond. We all thought it was horrible that someone would take that dream and that inspiration away. There is so much more to say, but it's not really my place to say it and I should really go to bed. I've got a 5 km classic race tomorrow on the same tough course, and my throat is still sore. Here's hoping I feel better in the morning.

Good night from Canmore. 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Last day at home

My brief sojourn at home is coming to an end, and I'm off to Canmore, Alberta, for Para-Nordic Nationals tomorrow. I seem to have developed a bit of a cold in the last couple of days, which really sucks, but at least I have a chance to fight it off before the Games. I think it's already getting better. We have only two races at Nationals this year: a 10 km free on Saturday and a 5 km classic on Sunday. Those races are also not the most important of the season, so if I don't do the greatest due to being under the weather, it's not the end of the world. After Nationals, we get to hang out in Canmore for about a week and train, and from there the ones that make the Paralympic team are off to Whistler. The official team announcement has been put off until March 2nd, so I can't yet say for sure whether I get to go or not, but I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed. I hope you are too. For now, you can see my Paralympic hopeful bio on this page. The CPC site seems to be very slow, so be patient.

This week, my friend Leona organized a send-off party for my guide, Robert, and me. It was held at the Blue Cactus restaurant in the Market, and quite a few of my friends came out to visit with us and wish us good luck. It was really great to see everyone. Thank you all so much for coming, and thank you Leona for organizing and hosting. Leona also made an amazing cake. It was a snowy mountain with hills, ski tracks, Canadian flags and banners on it. It was also very tasty (I was very happy that it was chocolate inside; Leona knows me well!). All in all, a great night out with friends. Well, I'm off to finish packing and watch some figure skating. Good night!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Gatineau Loppet: 10 km free

Today's race went really great. I posted a time of 36:24, which is definitely a personal best, and this time I'm on the results list, which can be found here. I made sure to not forget a single thing today, including first and foremost my transponder as well as my heartrate watch and sunglasses. Our radios only worked one way for some reason, but thankfully I could hear Robert and he couln't hear me, not the other way around. We also got a little boxed in at the beginning of the race and had to pass people really aggressively to get out of there. This all happened on Pink's Lake hill, incidentally the biggest hill in the race, so we really had to push it up that hill to free ourselves from the crowd. Thanks to Robert's superb passing techniques and great guiding, we finally got out of there and could race our own race at our own pace. We worked on pushing over the tops of the hills instead of just cruising over and losing all our speed. It's really hard to do, but it's a necessary component of a good race. My pushing-over still needs work, but it's getting better. We also worked on a consistently fast pace, as it was an easy course and 10 km is not such a long distance that you can really pace yourself too much. We went down Pink's Lake hill in the tracks because they were faster than the middle of the trail, but I still get scared of the speed I pick up in the tracks and tend to slow myself down. That still needs work as well.

After the race was done, a few people came to talk to me and wish me good luck at the Paralympics. I thought that was really nice, and I really appreciate everyone's support. Robin McKeever was in town for the Gatineau Loppet: he won the 49 km loppet both days. He also came over to say hi and to congratulate me on my progress in the World Cups. That was awesome as well. I also got to meet a little girl, the daughter of a teacher from Robert's school. She was very impressed once her dad told her that I was the girl from the Cheerios box that was going to the Paralympics. She said "I thought you were much older, like 40 or something!" I thought that was pretty funny.

My fiancĂ©, Cliff, completed his first ever ski race today. He was not sure about it, thinking that he was not a good enough skier, but he said that the race was surprisingly easy and that he really enjoyed it. His time was just over 50 minutes for a 10 km, which is a great time for a first race! He says he might do a few more races next season. 

So it was a very successful weekend overall. Everyone had a good time and we had great races. I was first in my age category both days (I looked at the results to see where I would fit in for the first day), and in the top 10 for women overall. That's great for a blind skier racing in an able-bodied race, even if it is a more recreational type of race. And on this happy note, I bid you good night from Ottawa.

Gatineau Loppet: 16 km classic

Today I took part in the 32nd edition of the Gatineau Loppet in the Gatineau Park. My pre-race prep was a bit of a disaster as I seem to have suffered an episode of amnesia. Well, not really, but I managed to somehow forget to put on my timing transponder along with my heartrate watch. The heartrate watch I could easily do without, but the transponder anklet was the only way to get an official time for the race. But I forgot it and remembered about it with only 5 minutes left before the start. My dad wasn't able to bring it for me in time, though he ran as fast as he could. I did the race without it and I'm not on the results list, but I had a great race in my own humble opinion. My guide, Robert, thought that my diagonal stride was very good, but my double-poling was not as strong. I agree with him: there is definitely work to be done on my upper-body strength in order to improve my double-poling. I think that I can do the technique, I just lack the strength to make it work well for me. Here's a picture of me double-poling with only a kilometre or so left to go.

In other respects, despite pretty poor snow conditions on the trails (the Parkway portion was great), I thought the race went very well. We paced ourselves through the whole thing, I went strong up all the hills, and we were able to communicate the whole time, thanks to Jamie's leaving his club's radios for us to practise with after Germany.

We also ran into a little glitch with the radios this morning. Alexei must have had the same amnesia bug as I, as he forgot to bring us the pouches for the radios that go around your waist. But thanks to someone's brilliant idea and Chris from Fresh Air being the awesome helpful guy that he is, we were able to borrow a waterbottle holder from Fresh Air Experience for the race. It doubled just fine as a radio holder. Thanks Chris and Fresh Air!

It would have been nice to have an official time, but I'm not too upset about this. As Harris said when we ran into him after he had finished his 49 km loppet (great job, Harris!), thank God this happened here and not at the Paralympics. After all, this was just a training race, and one to help us get all the kinks out. And now I will always remember to put my transponder anklet on as soon as I get it, even before the bib number!

Tomorrow is the 10 km free, and I am certain things will go better for us. Cliff gets to do his first ski race tomorrow too, so that'll be exciting for him and everyone else. Go Cliff! Alright, it's bed time for us now. Good night!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Back in Canada

Judging by my lack of writing, you have probably already figured out that I'm back in Ottawa. It's funny how much busier one is when they're at home. I've been back for a week, and I have a couple more weeks at home before I head back out. I'm leaving for Canmore, this time for Para-Nordic Nationals, on February 26, and from there, if all goes according to plan, we head to Vancouver/Whistler on March 8. For now, I'm just taking a little break from hard-core racing, seeing some of my friends, hanging out with my fiancĂ©, watching the Olympics, and of course, getting the last bit of training in before the Games.

Cliff, Jenna and I checking out the ice sculptures at Winterlude (Jesse F. was there too: he took the picture :))

Last weekend, we got lots of skiing in in the Gatineau Park. We did another biathlon simulation on Sunday, focusing on faster shooting. I shot 22 out of 25 with range times of around 1 minute to 1:10. Those are much faster range times than I had in my World Cup races, where I usually took over 2 minutes to shoot. If I can emmulate this at the Paralympics, it would help me a lot. I also worked on some high-speed downhill corners last weekend because we figure that is where I can gain some speed in my races in the short time we have left. Step-turning around difficult corners has always been really difficult for me, but snowplowing around them makes me lose most of my speed. This means I have to start climbing the next hill almost from a dead stop, while my competitors' speed carries them up part of the hill. In Whistler, the most important thing for me will be to get really familiar with all of the downhills, so that I can go down them confidently and let my momentum carry me up as far as possible.

Next weekend is the Gatineau Loppet in the Gatineau Park, and I'm taking part in its shorter distances this year: the 16 km classic and 10 km free. It'll be good to do another couple of races before Nationals the weekend after and the Paralympic Games in March. The Gatineau Loppet is especially valuable experience because it is a mass start and it will allow me to practise racing in a crowd, passing people and being passed.

Well, it's time to do some shooting practice. It's my day off but it's always good to practice shooting whenever possible. After all, there are only a few weeks left! Good morning from Ottawa.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Germany: Day 7: Biathlon short and a night out

Today the Notschrei Nordic Centre was a total twilight zone. It was so foggy you could hardly see in front of you. And that went for the guides as well as the blind skiers. The guns were acting very strangely too: most of them were faulty for some reason, and they had to change the start times and the length of the intervals between skiers in order for everyone to be able to have a gun when they got to the range. Only about half of them were operational!

Overall, I was happy with my race today, even though I hit a few snags on the way. My shooting was not too good: only 6 out of 10, so I had to ski 4 penalty loops, and on the second lap, I caught a rut or something on the biggest downhill and went for quite a tumble. I actually went head over heels once after I fell! I'm sure the volunteers that were standing right at that spot got a good show. I wish I could've seen it myself! It took me a while to recover after that fall, but I really gave'er once I got up. It was only after the race, when the adrenaline rush had passed, that I realized I hurt my ankle. I'm sure it's notthing serious, just a minor sprain, but I'm glad this happened in the last race, not the first.

After the races were done and we packed up our skis, we went to Freibourg for a bit of sightseeing and to celebrate the end of the World Cups. It's a really nice small city with cobble-stone streets, colourful old buildings, a huge cathedral and dozens of small shops. Unfortunately, they were all closed today becasue it's Sunday, but here is a picture of one of the streets. Note all the bicycles.

After we'd walked around the old town for a bit, we decided that we must do as the Germans do and sample some German beer. Now I don't normally drink beer, but I had to this time - I was in Germany for crying out loud! So we found a little pub and had a beer and a pretzel each. And then Jamie decided that we should order one of these samplers in order to taste a variety of beers from the area. Now I don't know much about beer or if it's good or not, but tasting all those different beers sure was fun.
Alright, it's definitely past the time I should be in bed. Breakfast is at 6 tomorrow and then we're off to Canada. It'll be a very long day, so I'd better try to get a little sleep. Good night for the last time from Oberried.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Germany: Day 6: 15 km skate

Today was a very pretty and warm day here in the Black Forest. We had our long-distance skate race. I finally had a great race today. After the short sauna and some rest yesterday, my muscles felt like new instead of feeling tired and being full of lactic acid like before. We did 4 laps 3.75 km each. It was a tough course with a very long gradual climb, some wicked downhill corners and a very steep coulple of uphills just before the stadium. But this is a World Cup race after all! I actually didn't find the long gradual hill to be such a big nuisance - I train on those all the time up in the Gatineaus - it was the shorter steep ones that got me every time. And I've realized that I really need to work on those hairpin corners, because I'm too chicken to step-turn them, even though I know that in therory I can do it. I have exactly 18 days in Ottawa before I have to head out again for Nationals and the Paralympics (assuing I get to go) to work on some of that stuff.

Robert and I tried using the two-way radio headsets that the Vancouvver gang has been racing with in the last few years. We really liked them for a race like today's. They allow me to communicate with Robert if I need to tell him to slow down or to let me know about something, and they allow Robert to not have to yell over all the noise of the race and the distance between us. I can hear every word he says through the earpiece.

As for my result, even though I came in 9th and second last and was just 1.1 seconds out of the World Cup points, I'm still happy with it. I have never been anywhere near points in a long race before. And had I been my old classification, a B2, (they've just reclassified me as a B3 God knows why), I actually would have gotten quite a few points. I know this is too technical for you non-paranordic skier readers, but just know this: today was the best long-distance race I've ever skied!

Oh, official results can be found here.

Well, it's getting pretty late and I'm really sleepy, so I'd better go to bed. Tomorrow's the last World Cup race of the season, and it's a short bithlon, just like the first race we had in France. If I shoot clean and ski fast, maybe I'll get some points tomorrow. I certainly hope so. I also hope to go into Frieburg tomorrow after the race, since I still haven't done any sightseeing in Germany. We start late again tomorrow, so who knows. Then we get outta here early on Monday morning. So if I don't get a chance to update this tomorrow. I will see y'all in Canada and hopefully write from there. For now though, good night again from Oberried deep in the Balck Forest of Germany.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Germany: Day 5 - Biathlon Pursuit

Today was kind of a weird day. I've been totally stressed out and on edge all day. My race went alright I guess. I was 8th out of 11, which is not too bad for me. No points though. I didn't shoot well, only got 5 out of 10, but it was snowing all day and the guns tend to flake out a bit when the snowflakes get between them and the targets. Also, the biathlon range is just at the top of a small hill, which means that your heart rate tends to be higher when you come in, which in turn, makes it harder to hold the gun steady. Neither Courtney or I advanced to the pursuit finals, even though we thought we would. We were told last night that the top 10 would advance, but it appears that it was only whoever got World Cup points. So only 6 advanced. Robbi was one of them, but she ended up quitting the race for some reason.

Tomorrow is the long skate race (15 km), and I'm not looking forward to it, to be honest. I'm tired and it's a long way to ski. I didn't see the course, but I was told it was very hilly, so it'll be really hard. Oh well, I'll just ski it and not worry about anything else tomorrow. Yeah, at least that's what I'm saying right now.

Our Vancouver contingent is leaving us tomorrow, so for the last two races it'll just be Harris, Alexei, Jamie, Robert and me. I'm just about ready to go home myself. It's been a really long trip, but there's only two more days and races left. Ok, the girls are packing up their things and getting ready for their morning flight, but I gotta go to bed to get some much needed shut-eye before my long race tomorrow. Good night from Oberried.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Germany: Day 4: Classic sprints and other things

So I haven't written in a couple of days and a lot has happened since then. We had our classic sprint races today. Everyone on the "B" team did really well today - got lots of points and big percentages. I was sort of having an off day myself though. I didn't really do as well as I think I could've, but everyone has those kind of days once in a while. I was 12th and advanced to the quarter-finals and was 4th and last in my heat...again. I should've been able to do better than that in a classic sprint. But oh well. The weather was very nice and sunny today, and it was warm.
The flag carrying experience was a lot of fun. They had one person from each team get a flag and carry it through the crowd and get up on the stage with it. Robert and I followed Belarus to lots of cheers and applause from the crowd. Andrea got it on video for me, but here's a picture of us on the stage after all the other countries had joined us.

We aslo got a good team photo today in between the races.

Left to right: back row: Jamie, Robert, me, George, Alexei, Courtney, Andrea
front row: Lou, Sebastian, Charles

Alright, biathlon persuit tomorrow. Gonna be another long day. Better go to bed. Good night from the Black Forest.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Germany: Day 2 - Let's train in the rain

Yes, it is raining outside and very windy. And yes, we're going skiing in just over an hour. Today is the official training for the classic sprints tomorrow - might be an opportunity for us to use our "Zero" skis (skis that have a special chemical base that does not require waxing and will provide grip in very warm fresh snow). In the last couple of years they have become a must in Europe and Whistler. Of course, we don't get too many chances to practise on them in Ottawa, considering as how we usually have perfect cold snow conditions (except right now I hear).

So we went up to our race site yesterday, and it actually literally was "up" that we had to go. The Nordic Centre is located at about 1200 metres, even if the town is at 450. So we'll still be racing at altitude, even though it si considerably lower than in France. We weren't able to try out the race trails yesterday because they had just had a U23/World Juniors Championships here and had to regroom and prepare everything for our World Cup. We ended up skiing on some very nice recreational trails though. They were wooded and very soft. It snowed the whole time we were out.

In the afternoon, I went and relaxed in the sauna that our landlady has in her basement. It was very nice once we actually figured out how to work it. A bunch of the others went into Freiburg. I wanted to go too, but I guess I took too long in the sauna. I hope we can go again sometime. Apparently, there is a really cool cathedral.

Tonight we have the Opening Ceremonies for this World Cup, and I was told last night that Kaspar and company had nominated ME to carry the flag, because I'm "the most improved athlete at these World Cups." That was a nice surprise! I'll let you know how that goes tomorrow. Better go get ready for skiing now. Good morning from the rainy Black Forest!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Germany: Day 1 - We ARE here

Well, after I had posted that entry yesterday, we were still stuck in Bessans for a number of hours. Eurocar, the company that we rented our vehicles from, apparently sent out a mechanic at 2 in the morning the day before to fix our van, which had frozen. That smart guy promptly punctured our fuel line, rendering the booster cables that we got from Patrice's father-in-law pretty useless. So eventually, after we'd had lunch at the Fringale across the street, we took a $650 cab ride to the Geneva Airport, which we were able to charge to Eurocar thankfully, and rented another van, also at Eurocar's expense. That was after Harris had spent the entire mornng and half of the afternoon on the phone with some guy called Mustafa from Eurocar. Thank God for Harris!

Anyway, we finally got to Oberried deep in the Black Forest of Germany just after 10 o'clock last night. What's a World Cup trip without an adventure, right Patti? We, the four girls, are staying in a nice little apartment full of cute little knick-knacks and equipped with a washer and a nice big kitchen. We're going to be eating most of our meals at the restaurant across the street, but it's still nice to have a kitchen.

Wer just had a nice big German breakfast, complete with bread, ham, cheese and very good coffee. We'll be going skiing in a bit. It's a little further of a drive to the trails than in Bessans, but it's still pretty close to here. I hope we can go do some exploring around town this afternoon as well. I'll be on the lookout for Black Forest cake. Oh, and it IS much warmer here and much lower. We're at 450 metres of altitude and it's something like -2 outside.

Good morning from Oberried.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Travel day...maybe?

I know I haven't posted in a while, but things have been pretty hectic around here. The last two days we've had races, then I had to pack and clean up last night.

We were supposed to have been on our merry way to Germany by now, but our diesel van is frozen solid and so is the "A" team's Hertz van. It went down to -22 last night, so no wonder. Good news though, I just heard that Kaspar got the Hertz running, and he's about to show Harris what to do to get ours running. So we might be outta here sooner than I'd thought.

Quick update. Yesterday was the 5 km classic race, and it went great. I reallhy enjoyed finally doing some classic technique. I was 9th, just behind Robbi, and I got World Cup points, so I'm quite happy with my race. It went really well, except that I took a quick fall on the big left-turn downhill because the tracks started a little bit too soon after the turn and I caught them and went down. I got up really quickly and got right back into the race, so it hardly slowed me down.

Saturday's biathlon race was not bad either. I shot well agian: 17 out of 20 even though it was a windy day. I was 1 minute and 1 second out of the points though and finished just behind Robbi as well. I took a pretty good tumble though on the very last downhill before entering the stadium on the last lap. I caught a rut in the snow, did the splits and went down hard. Somehow in the process of falling I got a cramp in my calf and had lots of trouble getting up. Once I got up though, I couldn't move for a little while because, apparently, the fall sort of knocked my breath out. Harris was standing right at that spot on the course, and he kept telling me to get going because I apparently had started sliding backwards. I never noticed though! Anyway, stuff like that happens in races, so it's alright. Kind of funny actually.

Yesterday, after Courtney and I packed our skis in the wax room, we went and took a bunch of pictures with the Beamer's cup that I brought from Canmore. If you've been reading my blog all along, you might recall that Andrea,  Courtney and I had planned to take one of those coffee cups with us to Europe and bring some pictures with it back to Beamer's when we go to Canmore for Nationals next month. They have a digital picture frame with all kinds of pictures of people with their cups from all over the world. Here are a few that Courtney and I took yesterday.

I think they turned out pretty good, thanks to my super awesome new camera.

Last night we had our last supper here at Patrice's restaurant. He said that for our last day he would treat us to wine and cheese "du pays" (from this region). So we got to try some superb red and white wine from around here and some Beaufort, Tomne and Bleu de Bonne Val cheeses. It was all so good and so French.

Ok, that's all for now. I have to go help the girls clean the other people's dirty appartments, and then we can hopefully be on our merry way fianlly. Let's hope it's a little warmer in Germany too, but not too warm! We do need snow.

Good morning from Bessnas for the last time (I hope).