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  • Writer's picturerganderson915

US Nationals - Highlights, Lowlights, Takeaways

Renae again,

I’ll admit today is Wednesday, so the Tuesday blog for this week was clearly delayed. My fake excuse is that I was traveling yesterday, but my real excuse is that I just didn't write it in time. It is also a slightly longer blog this week, which will not be the norm.

Last week I was in Houghton, Michigan for U.S Nationals. Unlike some Nationals races, this was not a race I had to qualify for. Anyone can register as long as you have a membership with US Ski and Snowboard. Since it's a championship event, a qualifier for international racing, and open for anyone, it draws the most competitive field of the year. This year, there were around 200 women and 250 men competing!

There were four races- I’ll list a highlight, lowlight, and take away from each.

10k Skate - 57th

Highlight: I was proud that I kept pushing hard, despite feeling like it wasn’t going very well. For me, there is no worse feeling than giving up in a race and I am happy to say I didn’t.

Lowlight: This was one of those days that just didn’t feel good - body and mind were not having it.

Takeaway: Find ways to stay confident through ups and downs

It’s easier to say in hindsight, but it is good to have some races that aren’t the best. It helps me appreciate the good ones even more, and often sheds some light on an area for improvement.

Lately I’ve been reading the book Do Hard Things by Steve Magness (gift from my teammate Erin - thanks Erin). It talks about “real toughness” and perseverance in sports and really any area of life.

This passage felt relevant this week, unfortunately:

“[During times of low confidence, high performing athletes] experienced a wider range of negative emotions, including nervousness, unhappiness, and inability to enjoy the competition…They began to see the competition as a sign of a threat, not a challenge…low confidence was like kryptonite, turning their cognition, emotion, and thoughts against them.” p63

Until recently I had written off this race as a consequence of being sick (fun little excuse), but I don’t think it was quite that simple. For me, the week prior to Nationals included both physical and emotional stress, and I took some days off from skiing to recover. I don’t think I lost any fitness during that time, but I do think I lost some confidence. As much as I wanted to come in and attack the first race of nationals, I could tell that somewhere inside I didn’t feel I was prepared. Race day felt daunting, and the race itself was hard! I gave it everything I had, stayed engaged, “dug deep,” but the feeling of being unprepared stayed at the back of my mind and indeed sucked the joy out of this race.

I’m pretty interested in performance psychology stuff, and I love to think of ways people can manage to be consistent and get more out of themselves. I have always wondered why some days it’s just a little easier to fight than others. I can’t say I’ve figured anything out, but my takeaway on the day is that finding ways to stay confident through challenges and trust the work you've done is probably a good start.

Here I am at the start line of a very unpleasant 10k! I didn't know what I was in for.

Classic Sprint - 19th qualifier, 23rd after heats

Highlight: This day was great for Team Birkie! In sprints, the top 30 qualifiers advance to the quarter finals. We had 4 women qualify (Erin, Julie, Renae, and Ingrid). We are a relatively strong sprint team on the professional circuit this year which has been a fun surprise.

Lowlight: None of us advanced to the semi-finals, but we gave it a good fight. I felt like I rushed my ski testing process, resulting in less optimal skis during my heat.

Takeaway: Respect all the variables that go into success

A lot of things need to be in place for a successful outcome, and cutting corners out of impatience is not the answer. This is probably true anywhere.

For me that means sticking to my morning/warmup routine, testing skis thoroughly, taking time to make sure I’m dressed appropriately, etc.

From left to right: Julie, Ingrid, Renae, Erin. Relaxing in the van between the qualifier and heats.

20k Mass Start - 23rd

Highlight: The sun finally came out after many cloudy days in the Upper Peninsula, and after some fresh snowfall and colder temperatures, the classic tracks were pristine. Erin and I raced side-by-side, took some gatorade feeds on each lap, and felt the love from both of our families who were cheering on the sidelines. It was a fun day.

Lowlight: n/a :)

Takeaway: Mindset matters

To circle back a little to my 10k recap and confidence theory, I knew this race was going to be good before it started. I was looking forward to battling it out for 20 kilometers, and didn’t dread how hard it might be. It’s not always easy to just “be in a good mood” for the race, but it is worth striving for.

Skiing next to Erin! Always a treat.

Skate Sprint - 15th qualifier, 14th after heats

Highlight: Best for last! This is the day I felt most confident going into, and I could feel that from start to finish. I felt more relaxed, and better able to push hard when it mattered. My skis felt fast (thanks Leo!) and I felt like I could compete with anyone.

Lowlight: Need to work on my skate technique on steep hills, it felt sloppy! My excuse is that I’m from Minnesota with no hills…

Takeaway: Be realistic, but don’t create a false hierarchy

I’m not going to ski faster by setting my expectations unrealistically high, but there is also no point in accepting that someone else is “just better.” I really believe in the power of seeing others as equals - regardless of their historical results. Anyone can have a good day - why not you? (inspired by UW Green Bay coach Sam Meyers’ motto, “Why not us?”)

Thanks for reading, and I hope some of the takeaways can help you too!


Team Birkie squad

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