By Andy Newell
As a veteran of the World Cup XC tour I can tell you there will always be ups and downs in ski racing. That’s the way sport is, but it’s extremely tough to have that kind of relaxed mindset when things aren’t going your way. Last season after flying over to Finland for the Word Cup opening weekend I finished 27th in the sprint and failed to advance out of the quarterfinals for the second year in a row. It was at that moment I swore to myself that I might never come back to opening weekend again. It was just too frustrating to start the season with that feeling of not skiing to my potential.
When we jump into the opening races of the season there’s always a lot of pressure. It comes from us, our coaches, but mostly from the idea of starting with a clean slate. We just put in an entire off season of dry-land training and put in all those hours of hard work sometimes to start with a worse result than the year before. It can be disheartening to say the least. But after that race in Finland last year I swore that I was either going to skip opening weekend all together or would finally learn from my years and years of mistakes and bad performances.
Luckily, I opted for the learning route. Coming from New England to the cold, far North of Finland can be a tough transition for our first races. As Americans we are often times flying over just a week before the first World Cups, which only gives us a limited amount of time to get our ski legs under us. This was a mistake we couldn’t afford to make again. With the thoughts of last year’s performances fresh in my mind, the US team and I made it a priority to fly over a full two weeks in advance of the first races to make sure we had time to practice on-snow technique.
I knew if I just made a few small changes to my training in the months and weeks leading up to opening weekend this year could go a lot differently. One of the things that make the sprint in Finland so tough is the massive uphill into the stadium. It’s far steeper than any roads we can rollerski on at home so it really takes planning and focus to prepare for a race where uphill striding can be the deciding factor.
This year, I spent October trying to work on classic sprinting by bounding up Stratton. On rollerskis, I tried to work on striding on the steepest terrain possible. My SMST2 teammates and I even went as far as strapping on real skis and bounding on grass up the alpine mountain. Although we broke 2 pairs of skis in the process it was an example of a perfect workout to focus on the uphill ski bounding technique needed for Finland.
Sure enough, with that added motivation and by changing up a few workouts per week I found myself on the start line of opening weekend once again, but this time I felt much more prepared. I was able to power up the hill in a way I hadn’t been able to the previous years and moved on into the finals finishing 4th on the day. I was beyond stoked to start the season off with a big result, finishing stronger than I had at any point last season. Even more rewarding than the result was knowing I had learned from my mistakes, set up a specific plan, made specific changes to accomplished that goal. It really makes me feel like I can tackle any challenge this season.