The World Cup season has begun.  For the first races of the season we found ourselves in familiar Vuokatti, Finland.  Six races were on schedule over eight days.  The week started with three cross country races.  A Middle Distance classic would open the season.  Following that would be a Team relay and a Middle Distance free.  After a day off the Biathlon races took centre stage.  The weekend would feature the Sprint, Pursuit combo.  The week would wrap up on Tuesday with the Individual.

One of the goals for the training season was to work on my classic technique.  I was nervous and excited to put the year’s work to the test right off the bat.  The day before the race I was nervous, it wasn’t until I did a few pickups that I felt confident and ready to race.  The race would consist of four laps of the Biathlon 2.5km course.  As I reflect back I think one of the greatest things about that race was that fact I enjoyed every aspect of that day.  I wasn’t nervous, more anxious than anything else.  I had a fantastic warm-up.  The race flew by; before I knew it I had already done two laps and was through most of the third.  I was skiing really well; I had the confidence and the fitness to compete.  To boost the confidence I was one of the early starters so I was always getting splits that I was leading, which only fueled the fire.  I knew that the faster skiers of my category were still behind me but for those few moments I was setting the pace.  Going into the race my goal was a top-10, improving on last year.  With a great race I was aiming for a top-8.  As I skied my second lap, I got a back-split telling me I was eighth or ninth after everyone had gone through.  On the third lap I was about the same.  The surprise came in my fourth and final lap, when my coach tells me I’m around fifth or sixth, in the hunt for a top-5.  I would finish sixth, couldn’t break that top-5 but halving my best-ever classic distance result and equaling my best-ever classic race.  I was grinning from ear to ear.  It was one of my strongest races for countless reasons.

Dealing with jet lag came to bite me two days later for the skate race.  My legs felt heavy, as well as I was missing that push into the top speeds.  I would have liked a result similar that of the classic race but again I wanted to use the race to prepare for the following Biathlon races.  With Cross Country done the focus turned solely on Biathlon.

Unfortunately all three Biathlon races left me wanting more.  It began with a stupid mistake on the very first shot.  In IPC Biathlon the rifles are all set up to fire right away.  As I was getting into position, my finger went straight to the trigger, too quickly and too forcefully.  The first shot was fired: into the snow under the target.  One miss already and I wasn’t even ready to shoot.  Not a great start!  The following four targets went down without any further dramatics.  My second bout was clean.  The skiing was on, I felt much better.  I was light on my feet and felt sharp.  With the first miss and a few small mistakes out on course, I fell to the bottom of the podium.  A good start but I knew I could do better.  The following day’s Pursuit seemed to continue the trend of good racing but not great.  A miss in the first bout because I ignored the wind. Then the second bout put several nails in the coffin.  Well… three to be exact.  I believe I came into the range a little hot, putting three pellets just high.  After a dizzy spell of three penalty loops, I started racing how I expect to race.  Fast skiing and clean shooting.  I was not impressed, I settled for sixth.  I was hungry for the result I knew I was capable of.  The last race of 2012 is historically my strongest.  The Individual; a test of physical endurance and shooting prowess.  Throughout the race I was in the hunt but never quite the target.  I never got to the lead because I seemed I couldn’t shoot a clean bout.  The first three bouts I left a single target un-hit, my skiing was good but not good enough to out ski three minutes of penalties.  From everything I was told on course I was fifth or sixth. I didn’t even go back to see the results afterwards, I was focusing on what went wrong and how I needed to improve.  Later that evening though it turns out that I was fifth, but only six seconds out of third.  Good but not great.  I should be glad that I finished every race with at least a clean bout.

With all the racing I nearly forgot that Christmas is mere days away.  Very few Finnish houses were trimmed in outdoor lights.  I didn’t have much time to listen to local radio to hear the typical holly jolly tunes.  Not until I began traveling back to Canada that the signs became clearer.  The biggest giveaway were the airports, the usual bustle has turned to a near chaotic pace with holiday travelers rushing home.  I’m headed back to the Island for Christmas for a short, but I hope  snow-filled,  break before returning to Canmore long enough to wash everything, exchange my skis and pack everything again for the second World Cup in Cable, Wisconsin, USA.

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Fantastic New Year!

Mark


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