Friday, March 22, 2013

Julia's JN Excellent Adventure

Julia Kern
Junior Nationals Fairbanks 2013

            My trip started with hiccups and complications. I planned to fly out at 6 AM from Logan, but with the snow storm (in March?), I sat on the runway for 3 hours. Then I rebooked on the flight that the rest of CSU was on leaving at 6 PM.  Landing in Seattle, I found out that instead of going straight to Fairbanks with CSU, I  was scheduled to fly to Anchorage, spend the night there, and then arrive at 7 AM instead of 2 AM. Luckily, a nice man helped me get switched onto the correct flight. I arrived, but not my luggage.  After a little over 24 hours the airline managed to find my ski bag. But, my duffel with all my gear was still lost, so in the meantime I borrowed gear from NE teammate, Katharine Ogden, who was very generous to lend me ski clothes. By Sunday, the airline office in Fairbanks told me my bag was in Denver and Denver Airport said it was in Fairbanks.  I went on a nice little shopping spree with Katharine and Coach Poppet since wearing the same clothes for 3 days is not pleasant. Who knew? The airline reimbursed everything. That night my bag arrived during the opening ceremony,  just in time for the first race the next day. I didn’t worry about not having a bag because worrying would just waste energy and wouldn’t bring me anywhere. The opening ceremony included many interesting speeches from sponsors and former athletes and then was followed by some traditional Eskimo songs and dances that all the athletes learned to bring home and I can demonstrate.
            Finally the first race-day came, starting off with a beautiful sunshine and moderate cold for New Englanders, but warm for Alaskans. For J2s and J1 girls it was a 5km skate individual race. The course started off with a fast and tricky downhill followed by a big, long hill. The top of the hill was at the 3km mark and then there was 1km of gradual downhill rest with a solid hill (aka Whoop Ass hill) ending with a flat, big turn finish. I was second in my seeding group so the whole race I got splits from random coaches and spectators I didn’t know telling me “you’re down on Leah Brams” or “you’re second to Brams”. This was motivational and also made me happy Leah was having such a fast race.  The course was mostly one big hill, which is my weakness, but with the immense amount of hill training I did at Bretton Woods, I was pumped to try this course to see how I have improved on hills and how I compared to others on a hilly course. When I finished, I was just ahead of Leah by 8 sec and I knew had a good race but had a feeling I would get kicked out of the top 3 after the rest of my seed-group finished. With a pleasant surprise, Katharine won by 1.6 sec, I was second, and Leah was a close third.  A New England sweep to start off the week set us J2s in a fiery mood for the rest of the competitions. Sonya came in 37th with a strong race. What I learned from this race is that if you identify your weaknesses or dislikes, then you have to set your mind to love them, and have a desire to improve them. I used to say “oh no, another hill” or “I don’t like this course, soooo many hills”, but when I realized I needed to work on hills, I changed my mindset to “I love hills!”, and “Rob, can we do uphill intervals and the mountain climb again?”. People thought I was crazy at first, but later they realized that it made sense. If you want to get better at something then you have to work at it.
            The next day was the Team Relay, classic 3.3km classic. With the sweep the day before and our wonderfully painted nails, we were pumped to race. Katharine Odgen started the relay, putting down a great race, with a little mishap of going in the finish lane instead of lap lane to tag off to Leah. Thankfully, Katharine threw down an awesome race putting us in a 10 sec lead and only being 8 sec out of 1st after the little mishap. Leah raced really hard and had a flying split and caught the Rocky Mountain girl ahead and moved into a good lead and tagged off to me. Classic 3km is one of my favorite races and so I held the lead, enjoying the lead Katharine and Leah gave me to secure the team win.
            With a rest day before the Sprint, we were ready to go. The course was a 1km skate sprint with a gradual uphill then a quick gradual downhill with another uphill and then a sharp turn and down a short downhill with the finish right thereafter. My prelim went just as I planned. I ended up winning the prelim and was happy with it, but knew a lot of racing was left. Leah was not too happy with her prelim, but instead of moping around, she took the attitude that she could only improve and learn in the heats. Sonya’s birthday was that day, and she just missed the heats in 35th place but still enjoyed her day. My heats were pretty fast, but went well and I got to experience two different methods of how to race the heats. Leah fell out in the quarters but raced the heat really well, but she just wasn’t heavy enough to go fast down the hill and got shaked and baked even though she put up a good fight. In my final, I put myself in 3rd at the top of the first climb, then passed the 2nd girl so that I was right behind the Alaskan, Lydia Blanchet, at the top of the last uphill.  She managed to get a slight gap before the downhill and my draft and shake and bake plan did not work like I planned.  I chased her into the finish in 2nd   to finish right behind her. Lydia raced well. The heats were really fun and I expanded my experience for future races because you can only practice heat strategy in races.
Zoe had an awesome day, making the A final for J1s and ending up 3rd American (podium!) and 6th in the A final because of the 3 Norwegians guest racers.
            That night, the J2s visited the World Championships Ice Sculpture display that happened before we arrived in Fairbanks. It was a great bonding time and Sonya walked with me admiring the various artistic sculptures while I took some photos. Even though it was quite chilly outside, we had a great time and Sonya’s father bought a big birthday cake for us all to celebrate with.
            Saturday the final race came, the 5km mass start classic race for J2s and for J1s the 10km and for OJs did 15km. The course was wide with at least 4 tracks the whole way around,  and with an uphill for the first 1km to spread out the field. I started out fast till the hill began to avoid any tangle ups, and then slowed down the pace for the first uphill. No one tried to lead early, which made it really easy to cruise up the hill. Near the top, I hopped in behind Lydia and drafted her down the long hills, forgetting about one sharp turn that almost threw me down, but I just caught my balance. When we hit Whoop Ass hill, the pace was too slow so I took the lead with Katharine and Hailey Swirbul  (was also on the U-18 Norway Trip that I took in January) with Leah close behind. On Whoop Ass hill, we started to push the pace more, leaving just Katharine and I in the lead pack at the top. We skied together down the hill and up the last hill Katharine and I put up a good fight, again with the hill training coming in handy, I pulled away and put in the famous CSU DP in the flat finish. Leah came in 5th place shortly after with a good race and Sonya with a good race as well. This race was probably one of my favorites of the week because of the tactics and interest of the race. You compete head to head with your competitors and can control the race somewhat. The crazy loud cheering for us from so many people and other athletes helped tremendously. One moment I remember is the motivational words given to Hailey by her brother (and my friend), Keegan, who was next to us cheering.  He shouted out “You have trained for the whole year for this!”.  He reminded me and helped me push harder because it was the same thing I used as one of my reminders to refocus as suggested in the book In the Pursuit of Excellence. Hearing someone scream it as encouragement out loud helped me, even though it wasn’t directed towards me.
            After the race, I had a nice cool down ski around the whole course with teammates Chloe Levins and Katharine, enjoying the beautiful, relatively warm weather and awesome classic skiing. I knew it could possibly be my last day on snow and it was too nice to stop skiing even after 5km and given how tired I was, but alas, we had a tight evening schedule.  Dinner was great with awards following. Canadian Olympic gold medalist Beckie Scott gave an inspirational speech on skiing and the evils of doping. We headed outside for a big bonfire and sledding while they set up the dance. The dance was fun and ended at 10 and then we headed back to the hotel. When we got back, we J2s hung out until someone ran by saying “the northern lights are out!” Everyone rushed outside and the lights in the night sky were amazing. I spent an hour outside enjoying watching them and taking pictures and hanging out with people. The northern lights was one of the things I have always dreamed of seeing, making the already awesome day just unbeatable and the perfect day to end my season.

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