Thursday, February 19, 2009

3. #23rd

I have yet to really expound to many the full details of what it is like to race a Biathlon World Cup or Championship event, so in lieu of summing it up in a paragraph and say the race was good or not so good, below are the details to my World Champs Individual race.

The Individual race was really not on my radar this past week; I am usually miss a lot of targets in four stage races, my last three Sprint races I had a 40-50% shooting percentage, and I have been struggling with my shooting process in training, in racing and in my head for two months which climaxed in what felt like one of my worst races ever in the Sprint. I was actually thinking about the possibility of racing the Mixed Relay instead and use it to prepare for our women’s relay.

But, then I was guaranteed a start spot. So, I put myself back together as best I could, headed back out to the range on Sunday afternoon for training. The gusting Korean wind was relentless and difficult for me to shoot in. On the range I left no more confident or reassured. Something needed to happen, was really all I could feel. On Monday morning I set up a meeting with Per, my coach. An hour and a half later after discussing, writing things out, even drawing it out (the note paper with the target and the right sight picture drawn on it still sits on the kitchen table next to me) we were able to come to some conclusions about my shooting process, where I had derailed, and how that afternoon and the following training sessions I would begin to get back on track. Aiming (go figure), “Forward and Inward” as Per would say, and seeing the whole sight picture is my new focus. Also, often a race analysis is concluded by “what if you hit all of your targets?” and the subsequent math is done to estimate a new result with my already established ski times and better shooting results. It gives a glimpse of what is possible someday. Often, this gives hope and direction, without being false hope because in biathlon the math is objective – a 1 minute penalty for each shot is pretty clear - and that perspective helps balance out the subjective experience. I finished my pre-race session, intervals done, course inspection successful, and skis tested. My shooting was mediocre and I was not as satisfied as I would have liked to have been. The overriding feeling however was more optimistic – I have done what I can do, the best that I can do, so now we will just have to see.

The race was rather late on Wednesday night. With bib 63 I didn’t start until 6:45pm. But the day went smoothly and was relaxing. By the time I arrived at the venue I was ready to go. Zero went well and I left with a strategy if the wind picked up during the two prone stages and I would need to adjust my sights. I discussed with my wax techs, Andi and Gara, about shortening my ski testing before the race. (I feel great racing Gara on the course, but then don’t feel so great once I actually have to race.) We have some great skis for this these conditions and testing has been quite clear each day in these dry man-made snow conditions. I also trust these guys a lot, and Gara fully understood, today I needed to focus on shooting and he would take care of the skis. I proceeded to dryfire to “warm-up” for shooting you could say, and then went for a run to warm up for skiing. The warm up track was washed away in the rain last week, and I actually find running (dynamic stretching, sprinting, skipping, etc.) to be a more effective anyways.

The Individual race is the longest event with 5x 3km loops, four shooting stages, prone/standing/prone/standing, a minute penalty is added for each missed shot and race ski times range from 40 or so minutes to an hour long. The women’s world cup field is a very competitive shooting group too, often besting the men in most conditions. With that, I knew this race was only about what I can do with what I have got right now, and it is not a comparison to the field. The PyeongChang 3km course is also pretty tough and demanding. It is dominated by two big uphills, a lot of transitions, and (what can be) a difficult downhill that rockets you into the stadium.

I arrive at the start with the right amount of time to jog around, undress, get a transponder and get in line. Start line jitters were adverted when I spent time looking for #62 from Moldavia to show up to start in front of me. At the start line I always like to think of my family, huddled in the dark to the glow of the computer screen watching and waiting 1,000s of miles away. Just as any other race I had cue words picked out for my skiing, my shooting and my mind, that I hang around me like an aura. I don’t say them over and over, or keep them in a certain part of my mind, instead keep them on the periphery and call upon them when I need to, or when I’ve picked certain spots on the course to transition my focus from skiing to shooting for example.

As smoothly as the rest of the night had gone, I started. Coming off of a disjointed and frustrating Sprint race a few days prior, I knew I needed a new way of thinking about racing. This time, I was creating something, lap by lap, shot by shot. Each lap had a necessary part - the first hill, then the second, and each shot had a number, one, then two and so on; focused on the task at hand, while at the same time creating the race. With this perspective, I found a rhythm and went with it. Each lap was solid. I passed Bernd, our team manager (of everything), on the first hill, who watches the time splits online and reports to the rest of the course coaches. He maintained his half-English, half-German cheering and coaching until the last lap where he exuberantly gave me the time gap of 2 seconds to 18th place. As his voice faded (probably because I just gave him his sore throat back that he has been trying to fight off) I would pass Max, our Exec. Director working out on the trails this week. His job was to relay to us our prone shots from the first stage. On a small target board he shifted the magnet white dots into formation. From that picture I could determine where hits and misses were and decide whether I would need to change heading into the second prone stage. On the next hill, I would pass Gara, an intimidating-looking Czech guy who actually is really nice and very good to test skis with. The middle of the course was mine and I felt like I climbed the big hill well. On the 4th and 5th laps I kept pace with a Norwegian and a Czech (who was leading the race at that time). Nearing the drop into the stadium I would take my feeds from Patrick and get another cheer before the shooting range. Before taking a 180 degree turn into the stadium there is a long V2 alternate stretch that is ideal for taking in deeper breaths to trigger the calm before shooting. Stage by stage I was dumbfounded by the fallen targets: I cleaned [hit all 5 targets] one – okay good, that was nice to do – I cleaned two – Oh **** I have not done that in racing or in training in a long time! – cleaned three – no way, here we go! – last stage I missed the 4th shot high, but regained and nailed the 5th – I could have stopped right then and there, satisfied because to have hit all would not have been human for me to do. [Until I did that math afterwards and I could have gotten 13th.] Passing back through the stadium, forming the Norwegian and Czech trio again, I could hear Martin, our massage therapist and start guy, who because of his height and generous heart we affectionately call him Big Martin, yelling “Super, Super!” I had maintained a good pace throughout, so was able to push it on the last lap, yo-yo-ing between the Norwegian and Czech. Their power up and over the hills separated us on the final downhill sections nearing the finish. Thankfully the notorious downhill to the finish was in great condition and a bit of recovery was possible. Following Anne into the Finish, I slighted my eyes, thought “Kara - Lars” (my favorite team, and my brother and sister who slept on the couch to be able to get up to watch my race online in the middle of the night) and sprinted for the finish. The finish line, the fall line, the tipping point, whatever you want to call it brought about the biggest relief as I dropped to my knees and cried. I came across the line in 17th and after all 106 racers finished I ended up in 23rd – our top women’s result this year and the top World Champs women’s result since Rachel Steer’s 17th in 2005.

Thanks for reading, thanks for everyones’ support and thanks for following all of us this winter.
Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey will both compete in the Men’s Mass Start (top 30) and our Women’s Relay – Lanny Barnes, myself, Laura Spector and Tracy Barnes - are all this Saturday the 21st. On all race replays are available.

Presque Isle, Maine NorAm Cup, 2005
Ostersund, Sweden, World Championships, 2008

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