I have been fortunate to attend both World Juniors for biathlon (last year) and Cross Country this year, allowing me to race some of the best in the world and learn from them. Going into these World Juniors, I felt that there was no way I could screw up my races too badly… There were no shots to miss, penalty laps to do, and I had confidence that I was the fittest I could be. My first few days there I re-familiarized myself with the course, learning every uphill, downhill and corner on the trail to ensure no snowplowing or unnecessary thinking (my biggest nemesis). In the back of my head I could tell I wasn’t feeling great: My legs and arms were much heavier than usual, I could hardly do a short interval burst without feeling extremely tired, and I just didn’t have my normal zip. However, some of my best races have happened when I have felt the worse, so I remained optimistic. On the day of the first race, a 5km skate, I felt no nerves but only excitement. I tried to ignore the sluggish feeling while I warmed up, trying to focus only on getting out there and racing my heart out. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to be my day.
It only took about 2 minutes out of the start gate to realize that how I had been feeling all week was accurate… That my legs were not ready to race, despite how hard my mind was trying to push them. That 5km was probably the most difficult race of my life. In Canada, when you have a bad race, you will still place decent. When racing the world, it’s a completely different story. After my race, I fell into the idea that I didn’t deserve to be racing there, that my qualifying was pure luck, and that I wasn’t and have never been fast. That feeling stuck with me until the next race, where everything finally clicked back together.
I was completely dreading the skiathlon… Judging by the way my skate race went, I fully expected to finish the classic portion in dead last, and suffer through the free technique, until I finished what I thought would be my last race of World Juniors. However, starting the classic section with perfect grip and glide the race quickly became one of my favourite races of all time. Surrounded by 2 of my Canadian teammates for the majority of the race, I managed to finish with my first top 30, and two different poles. :)
Although I still wouldn’t say I had my zip back, I was at least able to have a race I was proud of, and one that secured me onto the relay team - The last race of World Juniors where sparkles, hair ribbons and funky socks mirrored the flags of 12 countries. Overall, my experience left me wanting more than ever to become faster, stronger and more competitive. I am currently trying to find where my energy is hiding, as since I’ve come home it has been playing a very irritating game of hide and seek, where I seem to be miserably losing. :) I’m very excited to rest up a bit, and get ready to start training for a brand new season!
The XC race season kicked off at the end of November with the first Alberta Cups at home in Canmore. It was an unusually competitive field as many teams from across the continent were staying in Bow Valley to get in some training before moving on to the NorAms in BC. Limited snowfall prior to the weekend meant that the races were held on Frozen Thunder. This created some logistical problems that resulted in some interesting loops and distances. On Saturday’s skate race, the men did 7.5 loops of the course for a total of 13.5km, while the women completed 4.5 loops and 8.1km. Junior girl India McIsaac raced up in the Open Women category and posted an awesome finish in 10th place overall. Anna MacIsaac-Jones came away with a silver medal in the Juvenile Girls 4.5km race. The next day was a shorter classic individual start day. This time, the men raced 8.1km and the women raced 6.3km. After taking a year off of training and racing, Nick Bardak had a fantastic race and placed 7th in the Junior Men category. Andrea Dupont finished 6th in Senior Women, while Sara McLean placed 3rd in the Junior Women category.
The next races for the team were in Silverstar, BC. This venue had plenty of snow and looked like a winter wonderland! It was a little on the chilly side, but not cold enough to cause race delays. These races were a combination of the Canadian NorAm circuit and the American SuperTour, so there was a lot of new American competition. The weekend started off with a classic sprint. The American field showed its strength, claiming 9 of the top 10 places in the Open Women category and the top 5 spots on the men’s side. Andrea Dupont finished 13th overall, 2nd Canadian. The next day was a skate race, with the men doing 15km and the women doing 10km. Conditions were interesting, with snow falling heavily throughout almost the entire duration of the races. India McIsaac showed her skating strength again, finishing 25th overall and 6th among the Junior Women.
From Silverstar, the team travelled directly to Rossland, BC for the next weekend of racing. Unfortunately, the author of this article got sick and had to arrange a rather sketchy and last-minute trip home involving strangers and the internet to avoid infecting her teammates. When she asked her teammates what happened in Rossland, the helpful answers she received were “I don’t remember”, “Nothing really happened”, and “Uh Nick can’t cut potato?”. The team learned that Nick Bardak is unfamiliar with the shape of French fries and cannot be trusted with cooking any kind of vegetable. But back to the (slightly less) important information about the actual racing. It was a cold weekend and most of the races were quite near the cold weather cut-off. Friday started the weekend off with a skate distance race, in which the men skied 15km and the women skied 10km. RMR’s top finish of the day was Andrea Dupont in 8th place. Saturday brought the skate sprints. The team had a strong showing, with Andrea in 7th and Emma Camicioli in 15th for Senior Women, Emma Holmes in 8th for Junior Women, and Nick Bardak in 12th for Junior Men. Sunday’s race was a 10/15km classic pursuit start. Andrea finished the tour in 8th place, Emma Camicioli was 15th, and Emma Holmes was 8th in the Junior Women category.
After a nice holiday break, the team travelled to Soldier Hollow for US Nationals and Canadian WJ/U23 trials. The weather was interesting, to say the least. Over the course of a week, we saw temperatures ranging from -20 to +5, as well as an entertaining assortment of every possible variety of precipitation. The first race of the week was on January 7. It was a skate day, with the men doing 15km and the women doing 10km. This was our only race day with clear skis and no precipitation, so stress levels were fairly low. India McIsaac had an incredible day, finishing 37th overall and as the top Canadian Junior woman, she punched her ticket to World Juniors! Erik Carleton had an awesome performance as well, placing 10th in the men’s category. The next day was the classic sprint, and that’s when the fun weather really got going. Sudden and constant changes in the type and amount of snow/rain/hail made waxing a challenge. The coaches put in a huge amount of effort to get our skis as fast as possible, but we were also lacking a place to test skis that accurately matched the conditions on the course. It was a tough day for the team and Andrea Dupont was our only skier to advance to the heats, qualifying 21st and finishing 25th overall. We had the next day off, during which it rained approximately 2 inches and washed away a significant amount of snow, as well as drastically changing snow conditions. After our rest day, we were ready for the classic mass starts. The rain’s negative effect on the snow meant that our courses were changed and instead of skiing a 5km loop, we were on a 3.75km loop instead. The junior women did two loops for 7.5km, the junior men did 3 loops for 11.25km, the senior women did 6 loops for 22.5km, and the senior men did 8 loops for their 30km. With the sheer number of people on course, there were points where the entire pack would come to a standstill as people herringboned up steep, narrow parts of the course. Erik Carleton had another great day with a 15th place finish, and India McIsaac finished her race in 19th place. Most of the team went home after the mass start, but Andrea Dupont stayed a few extra days and raced in the skate prologue, placing 15th.
Western Championships were in Whistler this year. A snow storm the night before the team departed Canmore resulted in an exciting 16-hour drive, complete with a midnight arrival in Whistler. But we didn’t die, so it was a success. Three days of racing started off with a skate sprint. Due to low registration numbers, Junior and Senior categories were combined for the heats and separated for results afterwards. Maya MacIsaac-Jones placed 7th in Senior Women, and Sara McLean and Emma Holmes were 5th and 6th respectively in Junior Women. The next day brought heavy snow for the 10/15km classic race. Maya had a great race and finished in 3rd. The final day of racing was a team relay. Each team had 3 athletes who each skied one leg of the race (7.5km for the men and 5km for the women). Everybody seemed quite excited for a fun new race format that many people hadn’t done before. Unfortunately, quite a few athletes in the Open categories had to miss this day due to a pre-Worlds training camp in Canmore. Despite the small categories, everyone had lots of fun! Sara McLean and Emma Holmes were on a team with Edmonton’s Sarah Tipples and finished 2nd in the Women’s category. Canmore’s Laurence Dumais and Australian Ellie Phillips were joined by Beth Fowler for a 3rd place finish. The drive back to Canmore was a lot less snowy and our deaths didn’t seem quite as imminent.
At the beginning of February, the team made the yearly trip out to Gatineau for Eastern Championships. The venue had plenty of snow and conditions were awesome! The weekend kicked off with a classic sprint for the Open categories and a 3km classic prologue for the younger skiers. Maya MacIsaac-Jones took the win in the Senior Women category, while Andrea Dupont finished 4th. Nick Bardak moved up to 20th after qualifying 28th in Junior Men, and Sara McLean finished 12th in out of the Junior Women. In the prologue, Anna MacIsaac-Jones skied fast and took the silver medal in the 2001 category. Tatiana Tilley lost some time while getting up close and personal with a creek and ended up 28th in her 1999 category. Saturday was a classic race, where the men skied 15km, the women skied 10km, and the Juvenile and Junior B categories skied 7.5km. Andrea Dupont had another 4th place finish, edged out by teammate Maya in 3rd. Anna was second in her category again with another great performance. Sunday was a 15/20km skate pursuit for the Open category, and a new wave start format for the junior categories. Skiers started in 10-person waves every 30 seconds, and all the times were compiled after the final wave finished. The Junior B athletes raced 10km and the Juveniles raced 5km. Heavy snow throughout the day made Nakkertok’s steep uphills extra tough and everyone put in an incredible effort. Andrea was consistent with another 4th place finish, while teammate Maya placed 2nd. Sara McLean also had a strong performance, finishing 12th in Junior Women. Anna MacIsaac-Jones finally made it to the top of the podium, dominating the Juvenile 2001 category by over 10 seconds.
This season, RMR was well-represented internationally. Maya MacIsaac-Jones and India McIsaac raced for Team Canada at World Junior/U23 Championships in Soldier Hollow and achieved some great results. Emma Camicioli also got some international experience at the Winter Universaide in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
The team is now back at home and beginning the final preparations for Nationals, which will be held in Canmore starting on March 18.
Half-way through February...hard to believe. Or maybe if you're sick of winter, you can't wait for March to get here and the promise of spring!
I've been procrastinating this update for about a week now, because I've been going through a tough time mentally and emotionally. But the quote I've attached to this email sums up where I'm at in my sporting career, and my determination moving forward.
I apologize for the details below, but I race with my heart on my sleeve and know that a lot of you appreciate the nitty-gritty of athlete life.
I returned to Europe on Jan 1st fit and ready to race. However, right after arriving in Italy, the universe had other plans for me and I was stuck crawling between my bed and the bathroom for a week, struck down with the worst stomach virus (or maybe food poisoning?) I've ever had. 5 days in, I very stupidly attempted to race...I dragged my weak/shaky body to the finish line after literally falling over on the last loop. Hindsight's 20/20, but I really should not have even considered racing that day. Especially knowing that my gut was not absorbing my thyroid medication, setting me up to feel hypo in the weeks ahead.
A week later the IBU Cup team was in Germany, and though I was keeping food down by that point, a week of not training and not eating didn't set me up well for fast skiing over 15km. After that we moved to Czech and then on to Poland and then to Slovakia. I continued to train and race at each venue, but the speed and power I had in November (and clawed back over Christmas) felt like it had literally been flushed down the toilet when I was so sick for so long in Italy. I continued to have good prone shooting, but in pushing my weak/slow body so hard in an attempt to keep up with the pace, I would come in to the range for standing trembling from the lactate. It was very hard to stay positive when I could feel my goals for this season slipping away, and the frustration built with each passing race in which I didn't perform to my abilities. Well, I performed to my very best of what I was capable of on each given day, but because of the cards I'd been dealt, my "best" was not nearly the speed my "best" had been a month or two prior. And of course, the state I was in was not near where I needed to be to race on the world cup.
I'd planned on staying in Europe for the 2.5 weeks between this IBU Cup tour and the next one, because the two travels this year had resulted in two illnesses for me so far! However, my coach, sports psych, and higher powers at Biathlon Canada strongly advised me to return to Canmore and recover properly, rather than push through the rest of the season and "hope" I could pull together my previous speed and get some better results. I broke down completely after the last race when I realized my racing was not going to turn around unless I made some big changes.
As Julie would say, I'm flipping it, and here are the positives from this tour:
-I can clean my prone under basically any duress, including making massive wind changes and the pressure of starting a relay....After a summer with a dislocated shoulder, in which we didn't know if I'd even be able to shoot prone again with little pain.
-Once I'm in the "red zone" lactate-wise, I'm a ticking time bomb in the standing position and start missing targets the longer I stand there and start to shake.
-I am able to push myself to my max and get the most out of my body even when I'm in the hole.
-Even when competing in such a low physical state, I still had results almost the same as last year, so I must have improved some...likely the technical and strength gains came through (I really worked for any time I could on the downhills and flats!) when my speed/fitness were flushed away.
Physically, mentally, and emotionally, it was a very tough decision to pull the plug on this season...but after a week here in the mountains again, I realize it was the ONLY choice I could have made. If I have any hope of ever getting close to my goals in this sport, I need to take a serious step back from biathlon. The women I am racing are healthy, and they are fast, and there is no room to not be at your 100% best. My spirit and body both need a break - from the frustration and disappointment of the past couple of seasons, and from the constant battering and stress I have been putting my body under. Two winters ago when I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, another athlete strongly advised me to take 3 months right then to NOT race, but rather recover and let my system re-set and come back to normal. Two years later, I'm giving in to the reality of the situation and accepting that I am really, really tired. I am taking February through April (instead of just the usual month of April) to actually take a step back from the sport I've committed my life to the past 5 years and figure out who I am besides a biathlete. My goals over the next 90 days are simple: to actually bring my hormones up enough to be considered a normal human and continue to rehab my shoulder; to work on my identity outside sport; and have some fun challenging myself in new ways. I also have a plan in the works for a career post-skiing, but I don't think I'm quite ready to implement it yet.
So, I did the most rash thing I've ever done and booked a ticket to Costa Rica to volunteer at a sea turtle research centre on the Nicoya Peninsula..leaving February 14! I am told that sun and the ocean are healing, but more, I wanted to do something bigger than myself and totally different than everything I have been immersed in for a number of years. I can't wait to experience a new culture, as well as pursue my interest in wildlife and conservation in a remote area and make a small difference. The trip came together because it resonated so strongly with me, and I was able to afford it through some work bonuses I'd saved (and staying with a local family is a lot cheaper than your typical resort:). All sponsorship money I'd planned on using for that third IBU Cup tour are going towards to a new stock for my rifle this spring, and training this coming year!
When I'm back in Canmore on March 2nd I'll ease into some spring skiing and help out Team Ontario at biathlon nationals. March through April will be spent enjoying my time on snow, seeing where my body is at, and working! At the end of April I will be home in Ontario to visit family and sponsors… so let me know if you would like me to drop by!
I hope this email has found you in a good space mentally and physically. I can't thank you all enough for your support, words of encouragement, and positive thoughts in my direction. I truly couldn't be pursuing my dream (Personal Legend?) without every single person that has ever been a part of this journey. Thank you.
Pura Vida - pure life (here's to learning some Spanish - a month ago I'd have thought that was crazy) -
From September 20th – 25th the Rocky Mountain Racers crew, including 12 athletes, coaches John and Luke, and parents Nancy Richard, and Shandy Tilley, were in Revelstoke, BC for another volume camp. For the second time this year, the team set off for an area previously unvisited by the club (although some athletes had been there with a former team). The new locale not only offered a much-appreciated change in scenery, but some great new terrain to explore.
This is where the latest RMR news will be posted. Postings will be contributed by numerous RMR athletes, RMR volunteers, and the coaches.