Another US Nationals has passed in Houghton, Michigan. I have raced in Houghton quite a bit since UAF races in the central region of the NCAA against schools like Northern Michigan, Michigan Tech, St. Scholastica, etc. I have been to Houghton a total of six times now, but in no way was I prepared for it this year.
With a constant blizzard and wind chills down to -20 F, I didn’t leave a single item of clothing unworn. When people discovered I am from Alaska and spent four years in Fairbanks, the common phrase of “this must be warm for you!” was repeated. Nope. Though Fairbanks gets down to -40 F once in a while and Anchorage has its wind storms, when you get the snowy trifecta, it starts to drain the mind.
That said, I had a wonderful time in Houghton. We had to get creative when it came to our free time so the team spent a lot of time reading in coffee shops, strumming on guitars, and singing songs. In general, the weather cleared up for the race days and along with the great volunteers in Houghton, the championships went on without a hitch.
My week of racing started relatively unremarkably for the first three races. Finishing 22nd, 17th, and 15th in the Skate 15k, Classic Sprint, and Classic 30k respectively. I was not completely satisfied with my results, but they were still small steps in the right direction. At least that’s what I kept on trying to tell myself. With the last race coming up, the skate sprint, in order to qualify to race in Europe and meet my real goals of the season, I needed to achieve a top five.
I have talked to my coach a lot about the importance of patience, long term goals, and how the process outweighs the daily outcomes. Unfortunately, even though I know that to be true, my subconscious really wanted to race in Europe with the rest of my team of seven guys who had already qualified. Europe is where the majority of competitions are including the World Cup. It is critical to gain experience racing on foreign soil.
For the final three days of US Nationals I had this battle going on in my head. Sometimes it would click: “Everything is going to be great. I can make any situation work. I can adapt.” Other times: “If you don’t make it, your season will crumble.”(That obviously wouldn’t happen, but pressure can make you think funny things). By race day though, I had come up with my mantra: “Race to win, not to qualify.”
The qualifier went well where I crossed in 9th, but it wasn’t until my quarterfinal heat against Besh Cup rivals and current/former teammates Eric Packer and Logan Hanneman that I knew I could make the podium. Finishing the final 200 meters, I discovered I had a finishing sprint I’ve never had before.
With a similar result in the semifinal, all my focus was on the final. Racing against two of my other APUNSC teammates, Reese Hanneman and Lex Treinen, and classic sprint champion, Dakota Blackhorse-Von Jess, it was not going to be easy. The pack went out aggressively with a lot of jostling. I was almost certain someone would fall or break a pole. I struggled to follow my race plan of moving up as we got closer to the finish. Every time I tried to move I was shut out. Instead of coming into the final 200 in the top three, I was tied for last. Luckily, I found a hole and went for it with everything I had. Dakota had already broken up the pack at that point so I concentrated on him. With my coach telling me that I could get him, I pushed with everything I had, but he was too strong. My second place finish was a huge result for me and I’m now qualified for the European races later in the season.
So, with my season plan finalized, I am heading home today before potentially heading up to Fairbanks this weekend for a Besh Cup or going down to Valdez for a back-to-back 35k race called the Qaniq Challenge. Following that, the team heads over to Craftsbury, Vermont for more National Points racing and onto Europe soon after.