What Goes into a World Cup Race Plan?

Racing sprint heats in Davos, Switzerland (photo credit: Marcel Hilger)

Classic sprint qualifier in the Tour de Ski (photo credit: Marcel Hilger)

Winning my first World Cup race earlier this season (photo credit: Getty Images/AFP – Giuseppe Cacace)

Right now, I’m about to go for a run along the fjords in Oslo, Norway. I’m a cross country skier, but part of my pre-race routine involves running the night before, so I’m pulling on a jacket and lacing up my shoes! A big part of finding success in a sport that is so grueling and physically as well as mentally demanding is finding what works for you, and sticking to it. For me that includes analyzing the race course the night before, and finding cue words, or mantras, that will help get me through it.

For example, let’s take the city sprint race that I’ll be competing in tomorrow in Drammen, Norway. The race is wildly exciting, and takes place in the heart of the city. Streets are shut down, snow is trucked in, spread out and groomed. The course climbs up one street, around a huge old church then comes ripping down another street before turning a 180 and climbing back up. The finish line is on the steps of the church so it’s a steep little hill right at the end of the sprint race. A live band is usually playing in the square, the air smells like hot waffles and hot dogs, and the crowds are insane. In Norway, cross country skiing is the nation’s biggest and most followed sport, and the fans are well informed as to the results and stats of each skier competing. Because the World Cup is streamed live and show on Eurosport all over Europe, there are cameras and lights everywhere. Music is blaring from all speakers and the announcer is speaking in multiple languages.

As a racer, that’s a lot to take in. There’s a whole lot of stimulus that you simply need to shut out in order to focus on doing your job and racing as fast as you possibly can. So I take a look at the course the night before and break it down into three segments; the initial climb, the downhill and corner, and the final climb with the steep little kicker at the finish line. I think about what technique I’ll need to use on each section, whether that’s striding, double poling, double-pole kicking, or getting into a tuck on the downhill. Then I think about what cue words I can use to help me focus on each segment of the course and tune out any distractions. The first cue comes before I even start the race. In the start pen, I always take a few deep breaths, which calms me down. I tell myself “you can do this” and sometimes I say it out loud, under my breath. Just hearing the words helps give me confidence that when I trip that start wand and race against the best in the world, I will be able to hold my own.

I’ll get into the start lane, hear the countdown clock beep and turn green, and I’ll come charging out of the gate. I know that on that first third of the course, I’ll be thinking “long and smooth, long and smooth” because if I can keep my movements deliberate I’ll be faster than if I get too excited and flail around. And on the final third of the course? I’ll be repeating “everything you’ve got!” to myself because a sprint takes every ounce of energy that you have and even when my legs are burning and my lungs are screaming, I want to push myself to get the fastest time possible!

It’s been an exciting season so far, with lots of individual and team personal bests being set. I’m excited to see what the final 15 races of the year will bring, and I’m ready to go after them!