Liz in the Tour de Ski

I have to admit I don’t follow World Cup cross country ski racing very closely when I’m not travelling the circuit. When I wake up on race day I’m eager to look at results, but I don’t get up at all hours of the night to watch the races. I’m interested in the races because I want to see my teammates achieve success; my teammates’ and friends’ results are much more important to me than knowing who won the race.

It’s been a tough first half of the season for the U.S. Ski Team. There have been plenty of high spots but more than our fair share of disappointment. I have no idea why we have struggled as a team, but I know our training and preparation was good. I believe we can be great during the second half of the season, especially at the World Championships, the most important race series of all.

I believe the start of this turnaround, of some positive momentum, is Liz Stephen’s 5th place finish in the Tour de Ski, which ended Sunday. The Tour de Ski is the biggest event every year on the World Cup calendar, excluding the Olympics or World Championships. It is the most prestigious event, it pays the most prize money, it is the event that showcases the best all-around skiers, and it is the event every great skier wants to win at least once during their career. Liz’s result represents the best ever finish by an American, man or woman, in the nine year history of the Tour de Ski.

I am especially impressed with Liz because, like me, she isn’t a great sprinter. She was consistent, top 30, in every stage except the sprint, and she made up a ton of time and places with two great stages on the final two days. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend watching the video from Universal Sports of Liz on the final climb. You can see it on USSA Nordic’s Facebook Page here.

One of my biggest career goals is to win the Tour de Ski. I am gaining a ton of confidence from Liz’s great result. I’m excited to watch my teammates continue to improve and build on Liz’s result as the season progresses.

This morning I did my first hard (level 4, race pace) intensity session since hurting myself. I did 8 by 4 minute intervals on the SkiErg. I did my warm-up, cool down and recovery between intervals on the spin bike. My technique coach Zach Caldwell was able to watch my last four intervals via Skype. The session was really hard but good. I got faster throughout. Here’s my data for the session:

Interval # Time Pace (per 500 meters) Average HR Max HR
1 4:00 01:56.5 152 161
2 4:00 01:54.7 152 160
3 4:00 01:53.8 153 161
4 4:00 01:53.6 154 162
5 4:00 01:52.4 156 163
6 4:00 01:52.8 155 165
7 4:00 01:52.4 156 165
8 4:00 01:52.1 155 166

My heart rate was a little lower than I’d like to see, but the intervals were only 4 minutes long so there wasn’t a lot of time for it to come up. Zach had me go all out for the final 20 seconds of the last interval. During that 20 seconds, my average pace went from 1:52.8 to 1:52.1. I’m happy with how the session went. I’ll be doing a lot more hard intervals in the coming weeks as my volume of training decreases and I try to peak for the World Championships.

This afternoon I went for another ski. After yesterday’s 20 minute double pole session, I was cleared to ski for 30 minutes toady. Since my pursuit boots hurt me yesterday because they pressed into my ankle, I tried my classic boots today. They were 100% pain free. I forgot at times while I was skiing that I’m “injured”. It was awesome.

I again skied at the Gold Run Nordic Center. I tried a new part of the trail system that I’d never skied before. It went up the valley above the golf course.

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SkiErg Distance

Once again I owe everyone who supports me a huge Thank You! I mentioned yesterday that we were only $400 shy of our fundraising goal to pay for my coach Zach Caldwell’s trip to the World Championships. By yesterday evening we had reached our goal and then some. It took less than two days to raise the $3400 for Zach’s trip. This support network is amazing. I am honored and humbled to have so many people who believe in me. Thank you!

The last two sessions of my biggest training week of the winter went really well. I had low energy on Friday but felt much better this weekend. Yesterday evening I did an hour on the SkiErg, and I went much faster than I have during any previous distance session on the Erg. I averaged under two minutes and twelve seconds per 500 meters. Previously I’d been around 2:15. Here’s the data at the end of my session yesterday.

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Big Training Week

Wow! You guys are incredible. This community is amazing. I feel so lucky to be a part of it. I am honored that so many people believe in me and my teammates. I launched the “Zach to World Championships” fundraising initiative on Thursday evening. We needed to raise $3400 to pay for Zach’s trip to Falun in order for him to come support me and the rest of the U.S. Ski Team at the World Championships. In less than 48 hours, 33 donors have contributed, and we are only $400 short of our goal. Thank you to everyone who has already contributed! Please help us get the rest of the way by contributing here.

Your support of this fundraising campaign isn’t the only reason that I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. I received some awesome gifts yesterday when Emilia’s family brought the mail up from Denver. I got a really nice shirt from my sister. It’s a late Christmas present.

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New RallyMe Fundraising Campaign

After a great summer and fall of training, this season has not gone as planned for me. Who knew you could break your leg cross country skiing? Despite the major setback, I could not be happier and more optimistic about my future as a cross country ski racer. I have the best medical team in the world helping me return to full strength in time for the World Championships in February. My recovery has gone as smoothly as anyone could have hoped, and I’ve maintained great fitness and power throughout my recovery.

Here I am (bib 22) skiing in the lead pack of the Olympic 50k

Here I am (bib 22) skiing in the lead pack of the Olympic 50k

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Julbo Sunglasses

I am very excited to announce that I have formed a new partnership with the eyewear company Julbo. In November in Kuusamo, Finland, before I broke my leg, I pulled a little “stunt” where I went to the grocery store to buy sunglasses to use while racing on the World Cup. I did in fact use the glasses that I bought at the store in the first World Cup race (during which I broke my leg), but I have to admit that my primary reason for buying the glasses and blogging about it was to try to find a new eyewear sponsor. The stunt worked and in early December my friend Andrew Gardner e-mailed me about Julbo glasses. Andrew is the former Nordic coach for Middlebury College. I know him because he was a coach at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale, Colorado, just down the valley from Aspen, when I was growing up in Aspen. Andrew was my coach at many Junior National Championship race series. He now works in marketing, both inside and outside the ski world, including working with Julbo. Before he contacted me, I didn’t know he had a connection with an eyewear company. I was very excited to hear from him!

I was even more excited when I started looking into Julbo glasses. Julbo is a French company founded in 1888. In 1950 they developed the first true mountaineering glasses, called the Vermont. To its core Julbo is a mountain company; the products are designed to work in any condition anywhere on earth and to perform at the highest level of sport.

When I started looking into who is on the Julbo team, I knew they must make great products. The headliner for the team is Frenchman Martin Fourcade, arguably the best biathlete in the world. Fourcade is a two-time Olympic champion (in Sochi), a five-time World Champion and three-time winner of the overall World Cup for biathlon. Also on the Julbo team are Glen Plake (U.S. big mountain skier who you may have seen in any number of ski films with his trademark blond Mohawk), Dylan Bowman (an ultra-marathoner living in Aspen who I admire through a mutual friend) and my teammate on the U.S. Ski Team for cross country Ben Saxton. I am proud to be on the Julbo team with these athletes.

This weekend I received my first sets of Julbo glasses, and they didn’t disappoint. Opening the box was like Christmas number 2.

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Full Extension

My big news today is that I achieved full extension (which is actually hyper-extension) of my left knee in physical therapy. When I broke my ankle in the first World Cup race of the season, I also sprained (Grade 1) the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in my left knee. Although it didn’t require surgery, it has often given me more trouble and been more painful than my ankle. I haven’t been able to fully extend (lock out) my knee until today. I was worried that my knee was going to delay my return to snow, but being cleared to walk without crutches last week seems to have significantly helped my knee. I was surprised and very excited to find that I could push it to full extension without too much pain today. In the picture below, notice how my heel is off the table:

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Life Off Crutches

I mentioned on Saturday that I got cleared of crutches by my doctor. Not having to use them has made life so much better. Everything from making the bed to grocery shopping is so much simpler than it has been for the last four weeks. I can carry things and keep the house organized.Things no longer take twice as long as they should. I’m psyched.

Unlike Aspen (where I grew up), Breckenridge gets awful traffic. The last two weeks of holidays have been particularly bad. I’m excited for town to quiet down again. Here was the scene when Emilia and I drove to the rec center on Saturday:

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