Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sprint races

As I mentioned in my previous post, today's races were sprints. the standing skiers' distance was 1 km. The way the sprints work is there is a qualifier in the morning: everyone races the course once individually with 30-second intervals. Then, depending on how many skiers are in the category, a certain number of skiers advances to quarter- or semi-finals. For example, the sitski men had 25 participants today, so the first 16 advanced to the quarter-finals. In my category, which tends to be quite small and is even more so here, we had only 7 participants so all 7 got to advance to semi-finals as long as we got World Cup points (within 130 per cent of the winner's time). I know this sounds a bit complicated but, hopefully, this gives you somewhat of an idea of how the sprints work.

I was last out in my category today and Laurent did his magic on the skis again, they were fast and had awesome grip, even though we had to use Klister (a really sticky liquid grip wax for icy conditions). The course itself was not too complicated, having only one big downhill with a corkscrew turn. I stumbled a bit on he second turn of the corkscrew but stayed up. So I got World Cup points and advanced to the semis.

My semi was at 1 p.m. and I had to warm up for it by running as there was absolutely nowhere to go skiing. I had one of the fastest and the slowest Russian girls in my semi and a German B1, who has become quite fast also. The B1 girl got a 29-second head start and the Russian B2 got a 4-second head start on me and the fast Russian. When it was finally my turn to start, I skied as fast as I could but I could not catch those girls. The weirdest thing happened during that race though. Just as we started the race, this crazy siren went off somewhere. It was super loud and it sounded like an air-raid siren from the old Russian war movies. it scared the heck out of me! I thought we were going to get bombed! It turns out it was a tornado warning siren. I guess it was some kind of test. But talk about ironic timing - it just had to be during the blind race!

Anyway, sprints are really not my thing, and I'm glad they're over. I got World Cup points, and that's good enough.

Tomorrow's race was supposed to be a 15 km but they had mercy on us and reduced it to 12 km for the women standing. They did this because the course is quite difficult: there's nowhere to catch your breath. It only goes up and down and really mostly just up. So it's a kind of course you really have to pace yourself on. In addition, when Brian and I skied it this afternoon, it was like skiing on brown sugar: the snow is sugary and really dirty! My start time tomorrow is 1:04, so it's going to be pretty horrible, and, if it's sunny, also hot. Good thing I just bought a new pair of skis for wet conditions. They're going to come in handy!

Well, that's it for today. One more race and we're home free!

Good night from Minneapolis.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

First day in Minneapolis

Today it became quite apparent how much we've been spoiled over the last week in Cable. For one thing, the food here is not nearly as varied or as plentiful as it was in Telemark. Much more importantly though, there is no snow at all in the town, and the race course looks like they usually do in Europe. The snow is brown in places and there's barely enough to cover the golf course we are skiing on. When we got to the race site this morning, tomorrow's course wasn't even marked. And by the time we left they were still trying to figure out whether we were going to be racing clockwise or counter-clockwise! But Brian and I skied the race course quite a few times, dodging sitskiers, who were skiing the other way, and tripping over Klister all the while. Good thing tomorrow's races are sprints and we're skating on Thursday!

So I start at 10:21 tomorrow for my qualifying race. There are only 7 girls in my category and we're not sure how many will advance. It will be either all of us and we will have semi-finals or only the first 4 and we'll just have finals. I'm inclined to think it will be all of us and I will get to do at least two races. We will see tomorrow though.

All right, I will now go to bed and dream fast dreams before tomorrow's fast race.

Good night from unseasonably warm Minnesota.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Last two races in Wisconsin

So my last attempt at a blog post failed miserably due to some problem with the app I've been using to post to my blog. I hope the problem has been resolved and this post will go off without a hitch.

We are now in Minneapolis. We're staying at a pretty fancy Hilton hotel. We got here around supper time today and were disappointed right away by the lack of dessert in our supper menu. Apparently, the organizers had to make some budget cuts and dessert had to go. So a few of us took a little walk to the nearest Target store and picked up some cookies. You gotta have dessert after all those races! Other than the lack of dessert though, the food was very good and the hotel is super nice.

My race this morning was a 5 km skate, and I skied it with all my might. I thought it was a very good race overall: we went out appropriately fast on the first lap and kicked it into as high a gear as I could on the second. I had a bit of asthma on the last climb, but got it under control on the downhill and then raced to the finish as fast as I could. This was the first race that I couldn't stay standing at the finish - I fell to my knees after the finish line because I was so exhausted! I was still 6th, passing only one Russian, but I got World Cup points and feel that that was a solid race.

Yesterday I raced the 10 km biathlon, which did not go as well. My shooting started out well (I shot clean on the first lap) and then went downhill from there. I missed 2 on the second lap, 3 on the third and 4 on the fourth. Despite this horrible shooting, i felt that I skied the race well. Brian paced me properly over the 5 laps and there were no asthma attacks in sight. However, with all those penalty loops I had to do, there were no World Cup points either. I believe I wasn't able to shoot well anymore because my supporting arm and shoulder were getting really tired. I need to practise with a rifle in order to shoot consistently well. I found out that the rifles we were using belong to VANOC and will try to see about borrowing or renting one from them to practise with. After all, the short biathlon was by far my best race here so it might be a good idea to get more consistent at shooting.

We don't have a race tomorrow morning (thank God, I really need a break). So we will just be going out to look at the race venue and the courses for our two races here.

I had better go to bed. Good night from Minneapolis!

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Location:14th Ave S,Minneapolis,United States

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Second race - 6 km biathlon

Yesterday was the first biathlon race of this competition. The women's vision impaired distance was 6 km: 3 2 km loops with 2 shooting.

I haven't done any biathlon or any shooting practice since the Paralympics in 2010, but I have been shooting really well since I have been here. I had decided to take back control for yesterday's race and so I went back to what I had learned about racing when I first started. I wrote up a race plan, I visualized the race course, i found keywords that would help me focus and feel positive. In other words, I was ready to race.

I did my warm-up and practised some shooting in the time allotted for VI skiers. I got to the start line feeling pumped. I went out on the course and felt so strong that I was pushing Brian on the first lap. We got to the shooting range and I shot clean. On the second lap there were some people passing us and I tried to keep up with them, which triggered a bit of asthma, but I got it back under control and kept going. On the downhill towards the shooting range I caught the track or some separating branches that were left on the course after the sitski race. And I went flying with my legs up in the air. I didn't get tangled up though, so I got up really quickly and kept going. I missed my first shot that time, but was able to refocus and hit the rest. We did one penalt loop and went out for our last lap. I was trying to stay with the German girl who passed me when I fell. It turned out to be a bad idea, as it was not a girl but a guy (which I couldn't see) and therefore much faster than me. This attempt to catch him triggered a full-on asthma attack and for a while I almost couldn't move at all. I couldn't breathe! Once we finally got to some downhill, the asthma let go a bit and I was able to finish the race more or less quickly.

But even with these adventures, I still did well in the race, even beating one Russian girl. So keeping yesterday's race in mind and making appropriate changes (longer warm-up, slower on the first lap), I am racing the 10 km biathlon today.

Well, gotta go get ready! Good morning from Cable!

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Friday, January 27, 2012

First race - 15 km classic

Yesterday was our first race. It was a long one and quite tough. We did 3 laps of 5 km each. In my category, there were only 5 people: 4 Russians and me. I wasn't feeling focused before the race, and so just basically went out and skied as apposed to really racing. My skis were also much slower than Brian's, so that didn't help on the downhills. Brian and I decided to take the first lap really easy in order to save up energy for the last two. The second lap was the hardest for me. By the third lap, I finally started racing as I could hear the last Russian girl coming up behind me the whole way and was trying to get away. Even though I did get away from her, she still beat me by something like 6 minutes, being a B1 (totally blind) and having a big time recalculation as a result. My final race time was 1:07, a whole 12 minutes behind first. I was really upset after the race, as I'm still not any closer to the Russians even though I feel that I'm in much better shape overall. I realize now that it was likely because my head wasn't in the game, and I wasn't ready mentally. So today I'm putting that race behind me and focusing on the races to come. After all, I tend to not do well in the first race anyway.

Today, we're practising shooting and skating tomorrow's race course. Tomorrow is the first biathlon race. It will be a short one: 6 km. I practised a little shooting yesterday afternoon, and it went reasonably well. I shot a lot of 4 out of 5's and even a few 5 out of 5's. Today we'll practise with a higher heart rate, which always makes staying on target more difficult, as you tend to move the rifle when your chest moves with heavy breathing.

Well, I'd better go get ready for my ski. Good morning from Wisconsin. It looks sunny and beautiful out. Who could stay in a bad mood on a day like today?

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Location:Telemark Rd,,United States

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Arrived in Wisconsin

We are here in Cable, Wisconsin, for the first leg of the IPC World Cups in the U.S. Team Canada made up of the National World Cup Team, Development Team and the National Group (which I am a part of) arrived at the Telemark Resort last night after a day-long journey from various parts of the country. Caroline and I flew from Ottawa at 11 a.m. and met most of the team in Toronto. We made our connection even though we were late coming in. Our skis weren't as lucky. We think they were offloaded in Toronto because there wasn't enough space on the plane. Thankfully, the USOC volunteers got them to the hotel safely late last night.

Today was an absolutely gorgeous day: sunny and somewhat mild. The trails here at Telemark start right outside our door, which is really awesome. We took the morning to get organized and some people had classification. Since I wasn't one of those people, having been classified twice already, I helped our coaches scrape some skis in the wax room.

After lunch, most of us went out skiing. We skied the 5 km loop that will be used for the 15 km race on Thursday. My guide, Brian, isn't here yet, as there was a bad storm in Thunder Bay and he is somewhere on the way. So I asked Mary,, one of our coaches, to guide me today. The course is nice and mostly rolling, but there are some bigger downhills and longer climbs. The only downhill that might present a problem is somewhere in the middle of the course. It's got lots of turns through which you keep picking up speed. Mary and I went down it not realizing what it was like. I was holding on for dear life until the very last left-hand turn, where I got carried out to the outside and wiped out followed closely by Erica, who had to fall to avoid running over me, and Caroline, who fell to avoid running over Erica's pole. Then there was Mary, who looked back at me to see what happened and almost ran into a bush and wiped out to avoid that collision. So I caused a four-girl pile-up!

It's now evening and Brian has finally arrived. Yay! So tomorrow we'll be skiing at 10 a.m. and also possibly practicing some shooting. And I'm off to bed. Still need more rest after yesterday.

Good night from Cable.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

O-Cup #1 in review

I've been back from Thunder Bay for almost a week, and finally found some time to write about it.

The weekend's races went really well overall. It was great to have a chance to compete and get the first-race nerves out of the way before the World Cups coming up in a week. The nerves definitely got the better of me in the first race: a 3 km classic. I had skied the course quite a few times the day before and thought I had it down. Out of the three races, I'd say the first one had the most challenging course, both in terms of climbing and in terms of downhills. I was really nervous on the day of the race, it being the first race of the season. It also didn't help that I hadn't thought of arranging a meeting time and place with Brian, my guide. So in between doing our warm-up and testing wax to make sure we had grip, Caroline and I kept looking for Brian in and around the chalet. It later turned out that Brian was also forerunning (pre-skiing) the course every day, so that might have had something to do with why we couldn't find him. Needless to say that by the time my start time rolled around, I was really frazzled. I was almost relieved to start the race. Everything went more or less smoothly until we got to Lena's Leap: I jumped out of the tracks to go down the drop, but didn't quite make the right-hand turn at the bottom and tumbled into the snowbank. When I tried to get up, the tail of my ski kept digging into the snow. It wasn't until I stopped to analyze the situation and realized that I needed to turn onto my side and then put my skis down that I was able to get up and get going. Of course, by that time, I could hear Christine and her guide coming up behind me and thought, "Crap! She started 30 seconds after me, she shouldn't be catching up!" So I started skiing up the hill like mad. It didn't help that I had lost my toque and got snow in my ears when I fell. With about a kilometre to go, they were still close behind us, but we finally got away on the last hilly section of the race. This was a race when I actually found myself thinking "why am I doing this to myself?", as the last kilometre was super tough. It was not a great race, but definitely good practice for mental toughness!

The other two races went much more smoothly. I stopped worrying about finding Brian as we agreed just to meet at the stadium close to start time. I was able to do my warm-up with Caroline and then with Christine and her guide. It was very nice of both of them to let me tag along.

The second day's race was a 1 km classic sprint, which meant that we had to do a qualifier in the morning at around 10 and, as there were only three of us, a final at around 2 p.m. I had a really good warm-up and awesome grip for the qualifier (thank you, Harris). It was a really good race. I caught Christine on the uphill even though she started 30 seconds ahead of me this time. Then, we had quite a few hours to kill so a whole delegation of us went to scout out the next day's 5 km skate racecourse. We were able to ski only part of it though, as the rest was blocked off for the races. Caroline and I then had time to have some lunch and even a little nap on the floor! I was a little worried about the sprint final, as I tend to have trouble with racing more than once in one day, but I was able to warm up well once again and to finish the race without incident and well ahead of my competitors. This gives me confidence for the sprint races in the U.S. as sprints tend to be my worst event.

Sunday's race was a 5 km skate race, as I mentioned, and Robbi Weldon, the fastest female para-nordic racer in Canada, took part in the race. Robbi tried competing in tandem cycling last year and turned out to be amazing at it. So she will be competing in London 2012. But, as Thunder Bay is her hometown, she wanted to race with us. This was very good for us all, as competing against the fastest in your class is always a great way to measure your own performance. The 5 km race was a mass start and Robbi started to pull away right away. But, according to Brian, she was only 10 to 15 seconds ahead of us all through the first downhill and then uphill sections of the race. In the end, she beat me by a little less than a minute, which is really good if you compare it to last year's nationals. She must have gotten away on the last portion of the course, which was very twisty and curvy. Downhill corners are definitely an area I really need to work on. But I had a personal best in this race with a time of 17:03. I do acknowldge that it was a really easy course, but a PB is a PB and another confidence booster.

I stayed in Thunder Bay for another day when the races were done to work on skiing with Brian in preparation for the World Cups. We skied for two hours on Monday, and Brian took me up the two biggest hills at Lappe. He said he couldn't let me go home without going up them. I was completely exhausted by the end of that ski! So, this week, I've been taking it easy and recovering. Though on Wendesday, Patti had me do as many 30-second sprints as I could handle before getting light-headed. I ended up doing 25 of them and I never got light-headed! That was something.

So now there is only one week left before I go to the U.S. for the IPC World Cups. I hope they have wi-fi over there so I can actually post regularly.

For now, good night from Ottawa.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Pre-race update

So Brian and I went around tomorrow's course 3 more times, the last time with a bit more speed. We worked on some strategies for taking some of the sharper corners and Lena's Leap, which is similar to Dirk's Dive at Nakkertok. It's a very sharp drop on one of the downhills here. It's so steep that on our first go-round yesterday I actually caught a few inches of air! It was kind of fun and scary. Skiing with Brian is really cool: he says there is no point in him telling me how to take downhill corners, it's whatever I'm comfortable with and his job is just to help me make up as much time on them as possible. So the last time we went around the coourse, we went a little faster and I thought that all the downhills and corners went actually really well. So let's hope things go as well tomorrow. It's a nice fun course, which has only one long climb, so I'm confident that tomorrow will go well. It's funny considering that the last time I skied on this course was in 2006 and I thought these were the scariest steepest hills ever! I've to a few places since then! The only problem tomorrow might be with wax as it's going to be really warm tomorrow. But we'll see if the snow actually warms up. It apparently stays colder here than other places around.

Anyway, that's my update for now. I'm feeling quite positive for tomorrow's race and am looking forward to racing with Brian.

Good afternoon from Lappe!

In Thunder Bay for O-Cup #1

Happy New Year! I know I'm a bit late, but that's a recurring theme in this blog, so oh well.

I'm in Thunder Bay this weekend for the first Ontario Cup of the year and, incidentally, my first race of this season. I'm excited! We finally got snow in Ottawa on Christmas Day, and it was the best present Santa could have brought us skiers. I had all of last week off work so I skied up in the Gatineaus to my heart's content and we even held a short time trial at Mooney's Bay, which we needed to do in order to qualify for the Ontario ParaSport Games to be held in Huntsville in February.

But back to this O-Cup. Harris and I flew in yesterday, and we are staying at Patti's sister's house. Caroline will also be coming to stay with us today. She was supposed to arrive late last night but missed her connection and was stuck in Toronto overnight. We came out to ski at Lappe Nordic Centre yesterday afternoon, and it was a gorgeous day. They have a bit more snow here than we do and it's surprisingly warmer here than in Ottawa. I skied with Brian Berry, who has agreed to guide me in the World Cups this year. Brian is Robbi Weldon's guide of several years, but Robbi is tandem cycling this year in preparation for the London Paralympics, so I'm borrowing her guide in the meantime. Skiing with Brian was awesome. We skied the 3 km race course a couple of times and he launched into race strategy right away talking about where we can save time on corners and downhills, etc. I think I'll be able to learn a lot from him.

Our races are a 3 km classic prologue on Friday, classic sprints on Saturday and a 5 km skate race on Sunday. I will try to write updates throughout the weekend but Maureen, our host, doesn't have wi-fi, so it might be tough. I'm writing at Lappe right now.

Well, I'd better go and see if I can find Brian and get ready for a ski. Good morning from Lappe!