The 2011/2012 season has come to a close! Four World Cups, three countries spanning over five months! Sjusjoen, Norway in December, followed by the double World Cup in the States; in Cable and Minneapolis. The World Cup Finals were in a surprisingly sunny March stop in Vuokatti, Finland. I finished with six podium finishes out of the eight biathlon races. A final competition shooting percentage of 94% hits, missing seven shots for the year (four of which come from two bad bouts of shooting). A marked improvement on the cross country side. Two personal bests in classic races. An enjoyable mid-season string of loppet races, and finally an incredible amount of maturing as an athlete as well as a skier!
Throughout the training season the goal was to be working on the physical aspects of skiing. With my focus going towards technique, training more efficiently and with a higher training volume. As the racing season began Robin and I worked quite a bit of tactically how to improve performance. This skiing focus turned out to be very successful. I am technically skiing the best I have ever had. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. One of the biggest improvements from the last few years is my late season performance. Traditionally I have never been a great late season, mid-February to March skier. However this year was the first year I built on the performance and was skiing very well in the final races of the year. It wasn’t perfect yet but it was a huge step forward compare to the previous years.
In the words of Big Bird “This Biathlon season was brought to you by the number 2!” I took two victories, two second places, two third places and two fourths. With that I would finish second in the Biathlon overall. I had two bouts where I missed two shots. In biathlon the final result was identical to last year’s (with finishing second overall) but the way I got there was completely different. As I look back I was far more consistent throughout this season compared to the previous year. I’m thrilled by the fact that my tougher races were still good enough to finish just shy of the podium. To be honest I was quite disappointed immediately after both fourth place finishes. After some time to digest and reflect upon those races I was able to refocus for the next race. Besides two small lapses in focus or slips, my shooting was great this year. I was very consistent while shooting. Based on the printouts of the shooting results my shooting times were almost identical with set up and time between each shot.
Over four weeks ago I began the final trip of the season. The first stop was in Italy, back for a repeat visit to Passo Lavaze and Val di Fiemme. This is the same place we were a year ago before we traveled to Khanty-Mansisyk, Russia. We had hoped to go there for some fine cuisine and glorious sunshine. It held true on both accounts. The food was incredible and the sun was hot and bright. We put in five days to overcome some of the effects of jetlag and some final preparations for the World Cup Finals in Vuokatti, Finland. Before we could blink twice we were on our way north.
Finland was set up to have the three cross country races first, with the relay followed by the three biathlon races to end the season. First up was the classic Sprint. I felt I was on form and eager to get a start to the Finals. I had a solid but not great qualifier, finishing 11th, but I advanced and that was what I needed to do. My Quarter I had a plan for and stuck with it, following the Russian, using enough energy to stay with him but nothing more. That was one of the best heats I’ve ever had. I came across the line second, moved on. I was catching the Russian on the slight downhill into the finish with no effort. I was pumped and feeling that everything was coming together. My Semi didn’t go as well as I hoped. I was again with the same Russian, but after a few seconds into the race I felt my skis were faster and took the lead, setting the pace. Which was not the thing to do! My next mistake was taking the downhill corner not on the proper line. I was now left in fourth and was scrambling to get back into contention. The next corner I made a move into third and as I came into the stadium I was making up the gap. Though with my skis running extremely well I ran out of course and settled for third in the heat and sixth on the day. The Russian that I had proven I was better than in the Quarter finished second, showing me that I was right there for the race but I made the mistakes in the Semi.
Many of the Canadians would be doing several races within this week and as a way to conserve our energy we decided to pass on racing in the Relay in favor for a rest day and prepare for our next races. I skipped the classic 30km, in favor for a recovery workout and a bit of race prep for the next race, the 10km skate. Of the four laps we had for our 10km, I had two great laps and two not so great. My first lap, I found I was climbing too hard and couldn’t quite find my pace. The second lap I was paying for the first. It was my slowest and dropped through the standings as I recovered in an attempt to savage the race. The third was a good lap; I was skiing much better than the first and was setting myself up for a hard final lap. I had a great final 2.5km. As several of my competitors began to fade I put in an effort and went from 13th to 7th in the last two kilometers. I now wish I could get those first two laps back but I’m still needing to learn to pace in cross country races. With that I had finished the cross country races for the year and could turn all my focus to the final three biathlon races.
I got off on the right foot, taking the victory in the 15km Individual. I put together five fantastic laps; I felt they were extremely well paced. On the range, I was in the zone. Hitting all 20 targets in a minute 31, with every hit dead on. Finishing with a 31 second lead over the Norwegian, gaining a valuable 20 points in the overall closing the gap to 15. The following day was a rest day before the final back to back races; Sprint, Pursuit. Saturday was probably the best race of my life. A 10km Sprint, with two bouts of shooting. I was shooting very quick and precise adding another ten hits to the books. Unfortunately that performance would come short of the victory. I had to settle for second place, 38 seconds behind the Norwegian. Trading places and points I was back to gap of 35 points.
It came down to the last race, the 12.5km Pursuit. With the percentages and calculations I would start fourth, some 3 minutes and 21 seconds behind the Norwegian. Almost instantly at the start I had overtaken an athlete and was in third. I came into the range for the first bout which was where the wheels came off. I missed my first and third shots. Both were a result of a bad zero. With a quick correction before the second bout I was back on track. Though the damage had already been done. I didn’t ski well in the second loop and I began concerning myself with the other racers and not on how I would get back into this race. The second and third bouts were clean and I was closing the gap again to the leader. A final miss in the last bout put an end to my steady climb up the standings. I would finish the day in fourth. With that the season was over. I was a little disappointed with that last race, but it did open my eyes to some very important lessons.
With the end of the season, it was time for another trip, one that didn’t require skis. I left directly from Finland and traveled to Amsterdam. I was spending the next two weeks in the Netherlands visiting family enjoying some down time. I arrived on the 2nd of April and thought that I would be missing the vibrant coloured fields of tulips. It turned out that there really weren’t any tulips out yet, so I was able to fully experience the brilliant colours explode from the fields. On a run one of the first mornings I discovered I am fluent in Lamb, though my Mutton is a little rusty. It brought a smile to my face every time I saw a tiny lamb bouncing through the bright green fields. I was almost run over by only a few bikes which I took as a positive sign. A memorable part was some fine homeland cooking. I loved the fact it was only a couple of hundred meters to the baker, for fresh breads and bun. The butcher, for incredibly fresh and delicious (Nationally award winning) meats and some wonderful ready-made dishes as well. The fresh produce store was a delight; I lost count of the varieties of oranges in the store. The pastry store was a spectacle and a half, luckily I only went in there twice (but I did leave with a bag full of goodies each time). The trip was over before I knew it but it was an amazing time all the same.
I’m back in Canmore for some fun in the mountains before April has gone completely. Then of course the fun continues but we call it training after May 1. Stay tuned for an update at the end of April as I begin the next year of training.