Marathon, not a sprint: US Nationals Update

All of SMS T2 is in the midst of race series. Our European counterpart is about half way through the Tour de Ski (7 races in 9 days), and the American counterpart is exactly half way through US Nationals (4 races in 8 days). Race series are hard. You have to get yourself excited, nervous, motivated, and determined 4 to 7 completely separate times, all while keeping perspective on a week with inevitable ups and downs. Jessie touched on this idea on her blog this week, but I’m going to talk about it a little bit from my perspective.

Annie P, sending it in the snow
Annie P, sending it in the snow 

US Nationals started off with a very cold and very slow 10K skate for the women and 15K skate for the men. The course was rather unforgiving. Racers went downhill for a kilometer (a non resting downhill thanks to the frigid course conditions), worked their way back up, shot back down, and finished off the loop with a long, gradual, and winding uphill. Pat explained the course as being one of “constant output.” All of this combined is essentially my worst nightmare. Even though I’d been diligently working at distance skating the whole summer, the course was daunting.

So after 32 minutes of racing, I crossed the line. I had all of my fingers and toes, my cheeks weren’t frost bitten, and my only ailment was some very tired legs. Both Erika and Annie P put together good races (Erika 10th, Annie P 13th), and even though I wasn’t ecstatic with my result, I had made it from point A to point B. Driving home from the race we were all cold, but also excited for the upcoming classic sprint.

Me charging in tha A final
Me charging in tha A final

We had an off day between the skate distance and classic sprint day, during which Erika reminded me that this series (as well as the whole season) is not a sprint but instead a marathon. You don’t need to be first across the line every day, but instead just need to chip away at each race like you would a marathon. Like a marathon, your final result boils down to a sequence of individual miles. Mile one might feel really good, and then mile ten you might feel like you’ve hit a brick wall. But then come mile 16, things magically feel better again (I feel like I can say this because this is how my Boston Marathon went this spring). So with the “not a sprint, but a marathon” mindset, we all headed into the classic sprint with a great mental state.

And then it snowed a foot, was still pretty cold, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would call the 5 minute course a “sprint.” But we again reminded ourselves that everyone was facing the same Mount Everest conditions, and the only thing we could do was race.

Erika and KO pushing hard
Erika and KO pushing hard

And that we did. All of us qualified for the rounds, led by Annie P qualifying in 8th and Ben in 4th. Continuing to manage this individual sprint day like a marathon, Erika and I worked our way to the final rounds. Erika had the biggest jump of the day, qualifying in 29th place and ending up in the “B” Final tying her best ever sprint result of 9th. I had a great day, and ended up placing 4th in the “A” Final, my best ever National’s result to date. Ben matched his sprinting record, coming in a very strong 2nd at the end of the day.

Ben celebrating his second place finish
Ben celebrating his second place finish

Yesterday was awesome. But it still remains mostly separate from what will happen tomorrow (mass start classic distance). Sure we will carry confidence from one day to the next, but our bodies, the course, and the competition will be different. But what we do will be the same- Try our hardest, and remember the marathon mentality (Thanks Erika for the great metaphor!).

-AH

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